Dame Peggy Ashcroft

Definition

Theater

  • (Edith Margaret Emily Ashcroft; 1907 - 91) British actress,once described by J. B. Priestley as "the best all-round actresson the English-speaking stage". With the exception of Lady Macbeth,she played every major Shakespearean heroine, many opposite John Gielgud.After losing her father in World War I she was brought up by her mother,an amateur actress. She attended the Central School of Dramatic Art,making her debut in 1926 in Barrie's Dear Brutus at the BirminghamRepertory Theatre.

    She was Desdemona to Paul Robeson's Othello in 1930 at theSavoy Theatre. Two years later, her Juliet, given at the Old Vic,was considered one of the great performances of modern times. In 1937she made her Broadway debut in Maxwell Anderson's High Torthen returned to London for Gielgud's 1937 - 38 season at theQueen's Theatre, in which she played several roles, notably Irinain Chekhov's Three Sisters.

    Just prior to World War II, Ashcroft played in Gerhart Hauptmann'sBefore Sunrise with the German actor Werner Krauss. When heappeared on stage, the booing forced down the curtain, and a paleAshcroft then appeared to address the audience: "There are about30 British actors and actresses in this company, and all of us feelmost deeply the honour which has been conferred upon us in actingwith the distinguished artist who is a visitor in our midst. I appealto you to give him and us a fair chance." The play then wenton to a great ovation and excellent reviews.

    In 1942 she played with Gielgud in Wilde's The Importanceof Being Earnest; The Times wrote of her performance thatshe was "a jewel changing colour with the light, now innocentlyolive-green, now an audacious pink". In 1954 Ashcroft won greatacclaim in the title role of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler at the WestminsterTheatre; a year later she acted the part in Oslo, receiving King Haakon'sGold Medal. During the 1950s she also began to take roles in contemporaryplays, including Miss Madrigal in Enid Bagnold's The Chalk Gardenin 1956 (the year she was created DBE).

    She was a founding member of the Royal Shakespeare Companyin 1961, later becoming a director; her roles with the company includedQueen Margaret in Peter Hall's Wars of the Roses cycle (1963 - 64).In 1962 a 700-seat theater was named after her in Croydon. Her latersuccesses included Samuel Beckett's Happy Days in1974 and the RSC's All's Well That Ends Well at the Barbicanin 1982.

    Ashcroft's few films include A Passage to India, forwhich she won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress in 1984.

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