FEW actresses of the last two decades embody more originality of spirit and courage in adventure than Celia Gore-Booth. Her extraordinary inventiveness, as wild as her waist-length hair, and her insatiable curiosity for the new, led to remarkable collaborations with leading British and European theatre companies.
She was born on Twelfth Night in London in 1946. Her father, the diplomat Lord Gore-Booth, declared in his autobiography that he always knew she was destined to be an actress. She performed, aged 17, in Delhi to Nehru and his daughter, studied Indian classical dance and played the clarinet with the Delhi Symphony Orchestra. This eclectic breadth of interest became a hallmark.
She spent three years at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). Her inquiring disposition led her to Paris and the Ecole Jacques Lecoq, where the emphasis on a European tradition struck a formative chord. Leaving Lecoq in 1970 she joined Jerome Savary's 'Grand Magic Circus', touring shows from the Munich Olympics to the London Roundhouse. Her connections with Europe remained strong, working with the performance artist Alberto Vidal in Barcelona, and in 1979 with Luc Bondy (Director of the Schaubuhne, Berlin) playing in a German Macbeth in Cologne.
Coming home in 1975, she co- founded one of the most exciting theatrical adventures of the 1970s, 'Shared Experience'. Here in the Arabian Nights Trilogy which toured from 1975 to 1977, with no set and essential costumes, it was the creative abilities of the actors which transported the audience. But it was Celia Gore-Booth, the director Mike Alfreds recalls, who insisted on a performance at 1.20am on Southampton station, when the train home to London was delayed for several hours. The previously depressed passengers were delighted.
Next came the surreally witty Tip Top Condition and Circus Lumiere from another pioneering company, Lumiere and Son, directed by Hilary Westlake, and written by David Gale. Gale said:
Ringmistress Celia would don a long, black shoulderless dress radiating energy, elegance and strength. Later in the show she shed the dress, slipped into a body suit and wrestled the five male performers to the ground, terrorising them with her whiplash hair. Her radiance was not a trick of the light, she was a rare creature who loved without effort and warmed all those who worked with her.
She was always in the vanguard. With Welfare State International, a performance company, who work on spectacular outdoor events, she 'Raised the Titanic', in the first Lift Season in 1983, and went on to direct several of their shows. She became, in the director John Fox's words, 'part of the family'.
And when Richard Jones broke convention with his acclaimed production of Ostrovsky's Too Clever by Half at the Old Vic (1988), Gore-Booth was there in the role of an outsize magical concierge.
Her performance as God in Philippe Gaulier's No Son of Mine was inspirational. It scaled heights of terrifying comedy few actresses dare to contemplate, and was one of her favourite roles. As much at home with new writing as new performance, she led a season of new plays in 1987 at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh.
With Theatre de Complicite from 1986 to 1991 she created roles in five shows, Alice in Wonderland (The Duchess), Please, Please, Please, Anything for a Quiet Life (also filmed for television), Foodstuff and The Visit, which played at the National Theatre. Her inestimable contribution to the company was not merely as a superb, dangerous actress, but as a writer and galvaniser of ideas, events and people.
To the multitude of companies she worked tirelessly with, and campaigned for, her loss is incalculable. But her freedom of spirit and particular generosity will be a constant reminder to us of what is possible in our own lives.
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