Obituary: David Kelsey

"Oh, no, Kels. I don't think so - a bit over the top." David Kelsey, actor, director, playwright and adaptor, had such a relish for the stage as a dramatic medium - such a feeling for the theatre theatrical - that it was almost instinctive for him to attempt a boldness of gesture, a roundness of delivery and a robustness of manner which by today's standards struck an altogether too actorly note.

Kelsey had the build, the voice, the presence and the personality: but in a theatrical era coming swiftly under the influence of television, the opportunities to strut and fret were diminishing nightly, and they came mainly in musicals.

It was in that old warhorse, Robert and Elizabeth (Lyric, 1964), written by Ron Grainer (tunes) and Ronald Millar (words), that Kelsey probably had his finest hour, or at least his most widely remembered, since he was to spend most of his career running various reps in the heyday of the subsidised post-war revival of the repertory movement.

He played Mr Macready, Kean's great rival, and some of us suspected that in the timing of the famous Macready pause Kelsey out-paused Macready himself. And why not? If one could not go over the top as Mr Macready in a West End musical as "emotional" as the Millar-Grainer hit about the secret passion of two great poets, Elizabeth Moulton-Barrett and Robert Browning, what was the theatre for?

In Wendy Toye's production Kelsey sensed that the atmosphere was ripe for ripeness. So he let rip. One night, however, the interpreter of the master of the stagy pause was himself given pause - indeed everybody was - when a spectator in the royal box at the Lyric interposed his own critical comment.

It came while Kelsey's Macready was questioning the quality of a play Browning had written. When Keith Michell's Browning insisted that it was "a good play" and Macready contradicted him, an American voice barked from the outer darkness: "It is a good play!"

Such unexpected support for the poet's dramaturgy created a distraction for several minutes since the spectator repeatedly contradicted Macready's criticism until a member of the stage staff went up to the playgoer, who promptly left.

Had Kelsey himself inadvertently incited the incident during the run of his previous West End show, a short-lived, intimate revue which satirised American values and attitudes? Seven-Bob-A-Buck, which had transferred from Hampstead to the Comedy, may have got the bird from the critics for the crudeness of its satire, but Kelsey had stolen a notice or two.

"Paying customers, if any, will find what pleasure they can in . . . the well-bred, languid embarrassments of David Kelsey," said one; and "David Kelsey strikes a succession of stage-English attitudes which are often very funny," wrote another.

Widely respected in the profession as a versatile and sympathetic character actor - ranging from Malvolio, Archie Rice and Sherlock Holmes to Trigorin in The Seagull, Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady and Crocker-Harris in The Browning Version, Kelsey also held posts as resident director at the Northcott, Exeter, the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, the Royal, Northampton, and the Marlowe, Canterbury, and helped to found a touring troupe, Baroque Theatre Company, which gave work to newly qualified actors and technicians.

No one understood better the value of the largely under- rated reps, and Kelsey seems to have worked as actor or director at most of them, from Pitlochry to Plymouth, Bromley to Basingstoke, Manchester to Newbury. In a recent tour of The Boy Friend he played the redoubtable Percy and staged a tour of his own musical about Elsie and Doris Waters called Gert 'n' Daisy.

Other writings ranged from a stagy vehicle for the late - and some said great - Sonia Dresdel as a snarling elocutionist, Game for Two or More Players (Farnham, 1973) to an improbable funeral-parlour farce, Now Here's a Funny Thing! (Exeter, 1976); but if his pieces rarely struck gold they were never less than actable, especially for players unafraid to go "over the top".

Among more recent touring productions were revivals of the American musical Barnum, Priestley's I Have Been Here Before, and the pantomime Cinderella (King's, Edinburgh).

Adam Benedick

David Kelsey, actor, director and playwright: born 16 June 1932; died 4 April 1996.

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial