|Born||Lena Margaret Pocock
28 September 1872
|Died||13 March 1957(aged 84)|
Lena Ashwell, OBE (28 September 1872 – 13 March 1957) was a British actress and acting manager, known as the first to organize large-scale entertainment for troops at the front, which she did during World War I.
Born Lena Margaret Pocock on the Wellesley while anchored in the River Tyne, she was the daughter of Commander Pocock and the sister of Roger Pocock, founder of the Legion of Frontiersmen. She grew up in Canada, and studied music in both Lausanne and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Her voice however was insufficient for performance and she took up acting instead. In 1891, she debuted in The Pharisee, and in 1895 she appeared in King Arthur, by J. Comyns Carr, with Dame Ellen Terry and Sir Henry Irving. She went on to appear in a number of Shakespeare productions, in Quo Vadis (1900), and as the lead in Mrs Dane's Defence (1900) and Leah Kleschna (1905). She married the actor Arthur Playfair in 1896; he began divorce proceedings in 1903 following her adultery with Robert Taber, the former husband of actress Julia Marlowe. Playfair and Ashwell finally divorced in 1908.
In 1906, Ashwell starred in The Shulamite, a melodrama about a South African woman in an unhappy marriage who falls in love with a visiting Englishman. The show ran for 45 performances at the Savoy Theatre between 12 May and 26 June 1906. Ashwell took the play to the USA, where it ran for just 25 performances at the Lyric Theatre on Broadway. The New York Times critic wrote that Ashwell "had been rather badly handicapped on her first visit here by a bad play."
Beginning in 1906, Ashwell took up theatre management, initially at the Savoy Theatre, then in 1907 she established her own theatre known as the Kingsway. She married the royal obstetrician Henry Simpson in 1908. During the First World War she was an enthusiastic supporter of British war aims : in 1915, she began to organize companies of actors, singers and entertainers to travel to France and perform; by the end of the war there were 25 of them, travelling in small groups around France. She also organized all-male concert parties to perform shows near to the front line. In her writings about this experience she emphasized that ordinary soldiers had been enthusiastic about high culture - in particular, Shakespeare plays.
- "Arthur Playfair Seeks Divorce; Actor Involves Robert Taber, Former Husband of Julia Marlowe". The New York Times. September 13, 1903.
- Leask, Margaret (2012-07-01). Lena Ashwell: Actress, Patriot, Pioneer. Univ of Hertfordshire Press. p. 111ff. ISBN 978-1-907396-75-5.
- Wearing, J. P. (2013-12-05). The London Stage 1900-1909: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel. Scarecrow Press. p. 295. ISBN 978-0-8108-9294-1.
- Nissen, Axel (2012-02-21). Mothers, Mammies and Old Maids: Twenty-Five Character Actresses of Golden Age Hollywood. McFarland. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-7864-9045-5.
- Adie, Kate (11 Apr 2014). "Lena Ashwell: the woman who brought music to WW1 trenches". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2015-09-18.
- Lena Ashwell (1936). Myself a Player. London: Michael Joseph Ltd. OCLC 614472751.
- Maggie Barbara Gale and Vivien Gardner, Auto/biography and Identity: Women, Theatre and Performance, Manchester University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-7190-6332-9. pp. 99–124 Lena Ashwell and Auto/biographical negotiations of the Professional Self
- Margaret Leask (1 July 2012). Lena Ashwell: Actress, Patriot, Pioneer. Univ of Hertfordshire Press. ISBN 978-1-907396-75-5.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ashwell, Lena". Encyclopædia Britannica 2 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Ashwell, Lena". Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York.
- bio of Ashwell, with pictures
- Doctoral thesis on the life and work of Lena Ashwell by Margaret Leask for the University of Sydney (2000)
- Works by Lena Ashwell at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Lena Ashwell at Internet Archive