Obituary: Ossia Trilling

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The Independent Online
Joshua Ossia Trilling, journalist: born Bialystok, Poland 22 September 1913; editor, Theatre Newsletter 1946-51; Vice-President, International Association of Theatre Critics 1956-77; Member, Board of Directors, Theatre Royal Stratford East 1975- 89; married 1951 Marie-Louise

Crichton-Fock; died London 13 September 1994.

OSSIA TRILLING was one of the most assiduous chroniclers of theatre on a world-wide scale, liable to crop up in any part of Europe, and sometimes beyond, in one of his numerous capacities, usually as critic or correspondent, but often as a broadcaster and lecturer and occasionally as an adviser on the dramatic repertoire or as a translator.

For many years he was the first man that arts editors turned to if they wished to know something about theatre in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, the Scandinavian countries or Eastern Europe, particularly Russia, in which he lived as a small child before coming to Britain following the revolution and where he learnt to speak in five languages, Russian, French, German, Polish and Hebrew, before he was six years old.

Trilling was born in Bialystok, Poland, in 1913 and was educated at St Paul's School, in London, and St John's College, Oxford, where he studied classical Greek, Arabic and Sanskrit and also developed his life-long passion for the theatre and music. An active member of the Oxford University Dramatic Society, he both acted and directed, in the latter capacity being responsible for a production of Cocteau's Orphee in 1935.

After graduation he was associated with the Incorporated Stage Society, directing the British premieres of Strindberg's The Road to Damascus and Queen Christina at the Westminster, around the same time that he took up drama criticism. Before the Second World War he was also co-founder and stage director of the Chesham Repertory Theatre, a short-lived enterprise which was itself a war casualty.

With his gift for languages - he had by this time also acquired Spanish and Italian - he was commissioned in the intelligence corps, rising to the rank of captain and serving as Field Marshal Montgomery's interpreter in his dealings with the Russians. Before he was demobilised he also had a spell in Denmark, where he picked up the language as easily as his others, adding Swedish almost as a matter of course. He never returned to an active role in the theatre, preferring the life of a London-based but frequently roving commentator on its affairs, starting up his Theatre News Agency in 1946 which disseminated news and views on world theatre to a variety of newspapers and other publications, and editing the Theatre Newsletter for five years.

He served as London correspondent to numerous overseas newspapers and broadcasting corporations, was for many years a regular contributor to the Financial Times, wrote for Theatre World for 11 years until it ceased publication and had an association with the Stage which stretched back nearly 40 years. Up to the time of his death he was its principal obituarist, also contributing frequently in this capacity to national papers, invariably supplying full details of the lives and careers of overseas stage and screen figures, usually from his own extensive reference library which threatened to take over all the space in his flat opposite Broadcasting House. From October 1988 until he suffered a stroke in February 1990, Trilling contributed regularly to the obituaries page of the Independent, 46 articles in all: main pieces or supplementary comments, on actors, singers, directors and musicians. His first was on the Irish actor Denis Martin, one of the guiding lights of the Players Theatre, in London, and the last on the Austrian actor and director Hans Jaray.

Trilling played a full part in the affairs of his own profession, serving on the council of the Critics Circle for several years and being vice-president of the International Association of Theatre Critics for over 20 years. He was also on the board of Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop for over 10 years: for some time in the late Forties, when the company was homeless, he gave them house room for a desk and a telephone in the tiny office in Dean Street from which he edited the Theatre Newsletter. For his services to Swedish theatre he was made an Officer of the Royal Order of the North Star in 1980.

He is survived by his Finnish- born wife Marie-Louise, a devoted companion who shared his interests and whose homeland he very much enjoyed, regularly visiting the country for six weeks each summer but failing, for once, to learn the language thoroughly.

(Photograph omitted)