Marda Vanne

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Marda Vanne
Marda Vanne by Isaac Rosenberg 1914.jpg
Sketch by Isaac Rosenberg 1914
Born Margaretha van Hulsteyn
(1896-09-27)27 September 1896[1]
Pretoria, South Africa[2]
Died 27 April 1970(1970-04-27) (aged 73)[3]:48
London, England
Resting place Gunnersbury Cemetery, London, England[4]
Occupation Actress
Spouse(s) J.G. Strijdom

Marda "Scrappy" Vanne (born Margaretha van Hulsteyn)[Note 1][5] (27 Sep 1896 – 27 April 1970) was a South African actress who found fame in London.[3]:48

Early life[edit]

Margaretha was born in Pretoria, South Africa to Sir Willem and Lady van Hulsteyn.[6] Willem was born in the Netherlands in 1865 and emigrated to South Africa at the age of fifteen. He became a leading lawyer in Johannesburg and later a member of the South African Parliament for many years. During the South African War, he became an advisor to Lord Milner, the Governor of the Cape Colony, and was knighted by King Edward VII in 1902.[7]

She was briefly married to Johannes Gerhardus "Hans" Strijdom, but divorced within a year.[8] Strijdom later went on to become Prime Minister of South Africa from 1954 until 1958.[3]:48

In 1914, Marda met Isaac Rosenberg, who was on a visit to South Africa, in Cape Town. He took a shine to her and drew a charcoal sketch of her. He also gave her a copy of his poem "If You Are Fire, and I Am Fire" and wrote a number of passionate love-poems at the time, which seem to have been inspired by her.[9]


Marda Vanne moved to London in 1918 to build on her acting career and studied speech training and drama under Elsie Fogerty at the Central School of Speech and Drama, then based at the Royal Albert Hall, London.[10] After graduating she met director Basil Dean who recognised her talent and she had a successful career in the West End.[11] She also performed on Broadway in Noël Coward's Easy Virtue (1925), directed by Dean, and Many Waters (1929) by Monckton Hoffe.[12]

Marda became a good friend of Alec Waugh, the brother of Evelyn Waugh. Alec noted in one of his books that Marda tended to be cast in supporting roles. He suggested that it was because she "lacked sex appeal on stage. ... She lacked lightness. She did not look embraceable. I pictured her in more emotional roles, as a mature woman." He wrote that although she had several affairs with men, her main interest was women.[5][7]

John Gielgud also became a good friend of Marda's and mentions her in his writings.[13]

South African company[edit]

In London, she formed a professional and personal partnership with actress Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies that lasted until her death in 1970.[7] The couple founded a theatre company in South Africa, at the outbreak of World War II, when most of the London theatres were dark.[14] They toured the provinces, including appearances at the Hoffmeyer Theatre in Cape Town. There they performed their production of Twelfth Night in which Marda played Maria and Gwen played Olivia. They also produced and acted in the play Quality Street by James Barrie.[11] They played 44 towns in fifteen weeks and made a small profit.[15] Vanne also appeared as Madame Arcati in a production of Blythe Spirit in Johannesburg,[11] and she and Gwen brought their production of The Merry Wives of Windsor to the Alhambra Theatre in Cape Town in 1945.[15]

In 1950, Marda directed an Afrikaans translation of Grumpy,[16] by Horace Hodges and T. Wigney Percyval called Oupa Brompie for the National Theatre Organisation (NTO) of South Africa.[17]

They produced The Dam by South African writer Guy Butler in 1952, which the author criticised for portraying the Coloured (mixed-race) characters as caricatures.[18][19]

Vanne gained British Citizenship in 1965.[3]:57 She died of cancer in 1970.[13]

Selected work[edit]





Personal life[edit]

Vanne was a partner of Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies.[23]


  1. ^ One source, a close friend, spells her name "Margueretha".
  2. ^ "Miss Marda Vanne, as Mrs. Holroyd, made the transition from passivity to passion, from wife to lover, with a complete mastery of the quietest method. This was muted acting at its best ...she possesses a comparatively rare gift. Whenever she is motionless her attitudes are significant; when she is still and silent her body continues to act, and she spoke with a peremptory impulsiveness admirably suited to the part." – Desmond MacCarthy (18 Dec. 1926) The New Statesman
  3. ^ "...gave a beautifuuly balanced and emotional performance as the play's tormented heroine." – H.H. (24 Dec. 1926) The Outlook p. 629
  4. ^ "Miss Marda Vanne is an actress of extreme flexibility. She changes style, looks, and mood for every part she plays, and again she was brilliantly not herself." – Ivor Brown (April 1927) Saturday Review
  5. ^ "...and especially Marda Vanne in the awkward part of Mrs Cedar are others whom one would like to praise at length." – Peter Fleming (November 1932) Spectator
  6. ^ "...and from the power of [the performance] of Miss Marda Vanne as Mrs. O'Shea's shewd old aunt. ...and, particularly, Miss Marda Vanne in the dry precision of her wit...." – Charles Morgan (24 April 1936) The Times


  1. ^ "Marda Vanne". Retrieved 2010-03-29.
  2. ^ Kathleen Riley (2004) Nigel Hawthorne on Stage, p.16, Univ. of Hertfordshire Press, Hatfield ISBN 978-1-90280-629-7
  3. ^ a b c d Martial Rose (2003). Forever Juliet: the Life and Letters of Gwen Ffrangçon-Davies, 1891-1992. Dereham, UK: Larks Press. ISBN 978-1-90400-612-1.
  4. ^ "Marda Vanne (1896 - 1970)". Find a Grave Memorial. Retrieved 2010-03-29.
  5. ^ a b Alec Waugh (1975) A Year to Remember: A Reminiscence of 1931, W.H. Allen & Co ISBN 978-1-44820-127-3
  6. ^ "Shakespeare in South Africa: The earlier twentieth century". Internet Shakespeare Editions. Retrieved 2010-03-29.
  7. ^ a b c Michael Green (2004) Around and About: Memoires of a South African Newspaperman, David Philip Publishers, Cape Town ISBN 0-86486-660-7
  8. ^ "A lady who worried about Donald's shirts". Independent Online. 2009-07-01. Retrieved 2010-03-29.[dead link]
  9. ^ Jean Moorcroft Wilson (2007) Isaac Rosenberg: The Making of a Great War Poet: A New Life, Northwestern University Press ISBN 978-0-81012-604-6
  10. ^ V&A, Theatre and Performance Special Collections, Elsie Fogerty Archive, THM/324
  11. ^ a b c Neville Phillips (2008) The Stage Struck Me!, Troubador Publishing Ltd, Leicester, UK ISBN 978-1-90651-043-5
  12. ^ Marda Vanne at the Internet Broadway Database
  13. ^ a b Jonathan Croall (2011) John Gielgud: Matinee Idol to Movie Star, Methuen Drama ISBN 978-1-40813-106-0
  14. ^ "Africa to Get Soaps if Govt. Okays Commercials" (Nov 16, 1946) The Billboard Vol 58 No. 46 pp. 3,13
  15. ^ a b "Shakespeare in South Africa", Internet Shakespeare Editions
  16. ^ Horace Hodges and T. Wigney Percyval (1921) Grumpy: A Play in Four Acts, Samuel French
  17. ^ The Encyclopaedia of South African Theatre, Film, Media and Performance (ESAT)
  18. ^ Guy Butler (1991) A Local Habitation: An Autobiography, 1945-90, New Africa Books, Cape Town ISBN 0-86486-180-X
  19. ^ "A Prize Play Triumphs over Poor Acting" (22 May 1952) Rand Daily Mail
  20. ^ Joanna on IMDb
  21. ^ Passion, Poison and Petrifaction on IMDb
  22. ^ Peace and Quiet on IMDb
  23. ^ "Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Twentieth-Century Actress" by Dr Helen Grime, p. 52

External links[edit]