Domini Blythe: British-born actress who became one of Canada's leading stage performers

Anthony Hayward
Wednesday 23 February 2011 01:00

The British-born actress Domini Blythe appeared on the London stage among an all-naked cast in the erotic revue Oh! Calcutta! before emigrating to Canada, where she became a leading performer on the classical stage.

Oh! Calcutta!, devised by the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan and boasting Samuel Beckett, John Lennon and Edna O'Brien among its sketch writers, opened in the West End (Royalty Theatre, 1970) a year after the Broadway production took audiences by storm, although Clive Barnes, writing in The New York Times, protested: "The sex joke has, in reality, not sunk so low. This is the kind of show to give pornography a dirty name."

In Britain, the revue was seen by moral crusaders as the permissive Sixties gone too far, but police advice to close it down was overruled by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Blythe stripped off again when she played a schoolteacher's wife in the 1971 film Vampire Circus, one of Hammer's more inventive horror productions of that period. In the memorable opening sequence, she is seen as the village schoolteacher's wife who makes love to a vampire after being aroused by the sight of his feeding on a small girl whom she has lured to his castle.

The late Canadian actor Richard Monette, who appeared in Oh! Calcutta!, then persuaded Blythe to travel with him to his homeland in 1972. This began a lifelong friendship and signalled the most successful phase of her career.

Over 30 years (1976-2006), she spent 11 seasons with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival company, taking lead roles such as Portia in The Merchant of Venice (1976), Celia in As You Like It (1977, alongside Maggie Smith as Rosalind), Lady McDuff in Macbeth (1978), Rosaline in Love's Labour's Lost (1979), Gertrude in Hamlet (2000), Mamita in Gigi (2003) and, finally, Mistress Quickly in Henry VI Part 1 (2006). Monette, a leading man in the company, eventually became its artistic director.

Born in Upton, Cheshire, in 1947, Blythe was the daughter of actors Richard Blythe and Maureen Murphy, and trained at Central School of Speech and Drama. Before moving to Canada, she was seen for the first time on screen in an episode of Boy Meets Girl (1969).

In Canada, Blythe spent three seasons at the Shaw Festival, then joined the Stratford Shakespeare company in Ontario. She returned to Britain in 1980 to act opposite Alan Howard at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, in the RSC's productions of Richard II, as Isabel, and Richard III, as Elizabeth. Her performance in the second led one critic to praise Blythe's "coarse-grained Elizabeth, hitting people with her handbag like the lady in Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In".

During the 1980s and 1990s, Blythe unofficially retired from the stage to take more screen roles. These included Katherine Valeur, matriarch of a wealthy Montreal family, in the Canadian family drama Mount Royal (1988), a big-budget, failed attempt to mimic the success of Dynasty. Costing one million Canadian dollars per episode, it was then the most expensive programme in the country's television history.

Blythe also acted in Danielle Steele's Vanished (1995) and played a prudish schoolteacher in the award-winning film comedy The Trotsky (2009).

In 2000, she returned to classical stage roles with the Stratford Shakespeare company and there also performed her own one-woman show, Fanny Kemble (2006), written by Peter Hinton and based on the life of the 19th-century actress. Blythe, who took five roles in the play, identified with her subject because they were both British and moved to North America.

In addition to other stage work in Canada, during the 1990s she taught acting at Concordia University in Montreal.

Blythe is survived by her partner of more than 20 years, Jean Beaudin, a film writer and director.

Domini Miranda Blythe, actress: born Upton, Cheshire 28 August 1947; died Montreal, Quebec 15 December 2010.

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