Margaret Leona

Margaret Leona was an actress who returned to public performance in response to the revival of interest in story-telling - the ancient art-form in which the story-teller recreates, in his or her language and style, those tales from the oral tradition which later found their way into books like Grimms' Fairy Tales.

Leona was telling stories professionally before most of the present generation of storytellers was born. During the Second World War, when she toured as a one-woman theatre company, she devised a programme of traditional tales to present in places where the war had made it impossible to transport sets and costumes for larger events. Realising that story-telling required a different approach from acting, she studied the work of Ruth Sawyer, the American story-teller and author of the classic The Way of the Story-teller (1942).

Leona's story-telling was performance art at its most contained, using voice, gesture and facial expression to convey imagery and character - a kind of minimal acting, incorporating the slightest of gestures and movements within the traditional style of the story-teller. Some of her chosen stories had great depth of feeling: with the Japanese story "Green Willow", she could reduce an audience to tears (there was a golden rule of theatre, she said: "If you cry, they don't"). Humorous stories, of which she told many, were similarly controlled: hence the laughter, approaching hysteria, that took hold of an audience when she performed her masterpiece, the Spanish story "The Bird that Spoke", in which a bird (her expressive mouth, in profile, became a sharp beak) told a story about a talking fish (blowing round bubbles between the words).

Margaret Leona's theatrical career went back pre-war, when she trained at RADA, took part in many "little theatre" experiments and tours and taught movement, drama and speech at Toynbee Hall. During the war she was drama adviser to the Townswomen's Guilds and travelled around bombed areas starting drama groups. In 1953 she married and gave up theatre work to look after her very disturbed seven-year-old stepson - a task in which she was helped by the Jungian analyst Irene Champernowne. She later became actively involved in the Champernowne Trust.

Leona's position in the present story-telling revival was unique. Once it was known that she could teach voice, story-tellers who had problems with projection and strained throats began to beat a path to her little house off Richmond Green. Throughout her long final illness, she continued to weave stories into new programmes for performance. Her irrepressible spirit will live on as these stories are retold.

Jenny Pearson

Margaret Helen Gerstley (Margaret Leona), actress and storyteller: born London 25 July 1906; married 1953 Bill Button (died 1983; one stepson deceased); died Kingston upon Thames 16 January 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
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 People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower