Obituary: Maxine Audley
Saturday 25 July 1992
A TRUE stalwart of the British theatre, Maxine Audley was the supreme professional, a strikingly elegant, dark-haired actress with superb diction and remarkable range. She was a tartly elegant Amanda in Private Lives, a pathetic Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, a commanding Tamora in Titus Andronicus, a vicious Goneril in King Lear and more recently a magnificent blowsy matron tossing off wisecracks between slugs of gin in a revival of Light Up The Sky.
Born in London in 1923, Audley was educated in Gloucester but trained for the stage at the Tamara Daykharhanova School in New York and the London Mask Theatre School. She made her theatrical debut in 1940 at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre with a non-speaking part in A Midsummer Night's Dream. After the war she toured with the Old Vic in Arms and the Man and did a season at Salisbury's Arts Theatre before her West End debut in the musical Carissima (1948). The previous year she had made her first film, Julien Duvivier's Anna Karenina with Vivien Leigh, who became a close friend. Her work in the theatre continued to be mainly in the classics and in 1950 she joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford to appear in King Lear, Measure for Measure and Much Ado About Nothing, also touring Germany with the company. In London she played Charmian in both Caesar and Cleopatra and Antony and Cleopatra (1951), with the Oliviers, Emilia in Othello (1951), Lady Lurewell in The Constant Couple (1952), Sara in Tobias and the Angel (1953) and Violet in Angels in Love (1954). Leigh suggested to John Gielgud that he cast Audley as Olivia in Twelfth Night for Stratford's 1955 season, where she also took the roles of Tamora in Andronicus and Lady Macduff in Macbeth. Kenneth Tynan praised the 'exceptional power' of Audley and Keith Michell as the Macduffs, but Audley found herself consoling Leigh for the same critic's attacks on Leigh's performances.
Michael Denison was part of the same company and asked Audley to create the role of Marion opposite Keith Michell in the Birmingham premiere of Dulcie Gray's play Love Affair.
In 1957 the controversial Peter Brook production of Titus Andronicus came to London with Audley recreating her role as Tamora. She later named this as one of her favourite roles along with Blanche and Amanda. Four years later she played Lady Macbeth for the first time with the Old Vic company and in 1965 became part of what Noel Coward called 'an extremely talented company' along with Nigel Patrick, Phyllis Calvert and Richard Briers in a successful revival of Present Laughter. Her enormous range was further demonstrated when in 1969 she took part in A History of the Music Hall portraying Marie Lloyd and other stars of old time variety. Later that year she had one of her greatest successes as Mrs Hasseltine in Conduct Unbecoming, a part she played for over a year.
Though she continued to play in the classics (Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals, Mrs Marwood in The Way of the World), later years saw her in more modern works - A Streetcar Named Desire, All My Sons, Butterflies are Free, The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, and most recently the Drury Lane production of 42nd Street. Along with her consistent theatre work, she was featured in many television plays, hundreds of radio broadcasts and over 20 films, including Losey's The Sleeping Tiger (1954), the 1956 version of The Barretts of Wimpole Street, The Prince and the Showgirl (1957, with Olivier), Chaplin's A King in New York (1957), and Carol Reed's Our Man in Havana (1959) and the Agony and the Ecstasy (1965).
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