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OUR ELLEN

14 October - 19 October

“It’s pure magic” – The Guardian, “Utterly irresistible” – The Independent ,”A triumph of acting” – The Birmingham Post

In October 2008 Robert Hamlin & Iris Theatre presented Tina Grey in writer & director Richard Osborne’s Our Ellen; a show about the life of Ellen Terry.

To celebrate the life of this great Victorian star, on the 80th anniversary of her death, this acclaimed and highly entertaining play was presented for one week only in the unique setting of The Actors Church in Covent Garden

 

TINA GRAY   (Ellen Terry)

Tina’s wonderfully busy career began 47 years ago in her native Scotland with seasons in Edinburgh, Pitlochry, Perth, and St. Andrews and a West End run playing Alistair Sim’s secretary in The Jockey Club Stakes. 2008 credits include: Mark Dooley’s new play, The Conservatory (The Old Red Lion); Nell in  Beckett’s Endgame with Matthew Kelly (Liverpool Everyman); Deborah McAndrew’s new play Flamingoland(New Vic Theatre-in-the-round, Stoke).  She has just finished filming Rosamund Pilcher’s Love in Autumn  and recording some episodes of The Archers.

Recent favourite theatre includes: The History Boys for the National Theatre on tour and at Wyndhams.  Ethel Thayer in On Golden Pond, Sadie in Perfect Days, Lady Hunstanton in A Woman of No Importance, (New Vic); Mrs. Clegg in Alan Bennett’sEnjoy, Mrs. Eynsford-Hill in Pygmalion,  Lady Rumpers in Habeas Corpus, and Duncan in John Doyle’s Macbeth (York Theatre Royal); Gran in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg(Manchester Library); Rachel Lynd in Anne of Green Gables (Lilian Baylis); Lady Cynthia Hayling in Noel Coward’s Relative Values (national tour with Susan Hampshire); Betty in A Passionate Woman (Keswick); two new comedies by Ron Aldridge (Mill at Sonning); Lady Bracknell, Mrs. Malaprop, Mum in When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout (Worcester Swan); Amanda in The Glass Menagerie (Coventry and Plymouth); Annie Parker in When We Are Married (West Yorkshire Playhouse); but “the bestest thing of all” has been playing Ellen Terry over the past 20 years in Our Ellen, a play especially written for her by Richard Osborne.

Tina loves radio, has recorded over 1,000 plays and short stories for the BBC, and spent a year with the Radio Drama Company in London. Recent favourites include: two series of Agatha Raisin with Penelope Keith, A Bit of a Hole, Talking to Sticky, Dinner in the Iguanadon, , War with the Newts, Gunpowder Women, Constance, London Pride, The Vicar of Wakefield.

TV includes: Barbara Morgan in Coronation Street, Alice in Heartbeat, Doctors, The Estate Agents, In Suspicious Circumstances, and Gran in Hotch Potch House.

My fascination with Ellen Terry began during my first term at drama school, when I passed the Lyceum Theatre, then a gaudy dance hall covered in neon lights, and was told that it was, in Victorian times, our national theatre, with two great stars, Ellen Terry and Henry Irving at the helm.  I then found Ellen’s autobiography, The Story of My Life, and I was hooked.

I dreamt of doing a play about her but it wasn’t until 30 years later that my dream became a reality.  I was working in a new play, Guardian Angels, at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, the city of Ellen’s birth, and the assistant director was a brilliant young Coventrian, just graduated from Bristol, called Richard Osborne.  After the show one night I asked him if he’d consider writing a play for me about Ellen.  We met every Monday, having read avidly all week and put together our ideas; we visited Smallhythe where, thanks to custodian, Margaret Weare, Ellen particularly came to life for us; Richard went to Devon and wrote the play. 

We presented our project to Bob Hamlin at the Belgrade and John Doyle at Cheltenham, both theatres where I was well known, and they agreed to co-produce Our Ellen.  On board came designer, composer, cellist, stage manager.  A month’s run in each theatre generated such wonderful reviews that we have been doing it ever since, with big gaps, of course, for our busy careers.  It was particularly thrilling to do the play at the Swan at Stratford and at the Barn Theatre in Ellen’s own garden at Smallhythe. 

Tina Grey

Background

For half a century Ellen Terry was adored by critics, artists, royalty and theatre-goers alike.  She was “our Ellen” to her adoring public.  She celebrated her acting jubilee in 1906 and that’s where the play opens, thereafter chronicling the extraordinary tale of her three marriages, the progress of her two illegitimate children and her professional and personal partnership with the greatest actor of the age, Sir Henry Irving.  The play captures the vulnerability, the struggle and the resilience of a woman so popular with the public, yet so remarkably at odds with Victorian morality.

Born in Coventry in 1847, Ellen Terry’s parents were both actors and she never had the benefit of a single day’s schooling in all her life.  While other little girls in London were learning needlework, Ellen was treading the boards in The West End – playing the part of young boys and earning fifteen shillings a week.

Ellen Terry may have been a symbol of femininity and womanhood in Victoria’s England, but she lived in perpetual defiance of Victorian morality, bringing up her two illegitimate children, while pursuing a career on the stage.

“One man in his time plays many parts, and so does a woman.”Ellen Terry

Richard Osborne’s production, which has received universal critical acclaim since it was premiered at The Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, where Ellen was born, and later at the RSC Swan Theatre, was recreated specially for the very poignant setting of The Actors Church – the scene of her unconventional funeral 80 years ago.

Tina Gray starred in this entertaining, funny and magical night of theatre, which was written specially for her and for which she has received a host of unanimously stunning reviews.

Reviews

Ellen Terry died sixty years ago, at the age of 81, having retired from the stage in 1920. There can be few alive today who saw her act but her name is still one that is known to any with an interest in the history of our theatre. She was born in theatrical digs in Coventry, with parents and siblings on the stage (and her grand nephew was John Gielgud). She made her debut aged eight playing… Read More

A truly captivating performance…It’s pure magic – The Guardian

This is an utterly irresistible homage to a grande dame of the theatre…Tina Gray holds the stage with her vivacious warm performance
The Independent

Richard Osborne’s captivating life story of this great and intriguing actress is played with vigour and charm by Tina Gray.  Well worth a visit.
Time Out

A triumph of acting…presented with consummate grace and elegance by Tina Gray in one of the most delightful one woman shows imaginable.
Birmingham Post

The evening is a rare display of the art of fine acting – we end by believing that had we met Ellen Terry she must have been just like this, and that is Ms Gray’s triumph. – Birmingham Post

Humorous, moving, highly entertaining…a stunning tribute. It well deserves a London run! – Gloucestershire Echo

Writer/director Richard Osborne has created a cleverly rounded image of Ellen which is embellished with flair and imagination in the inspired performance of Tina Gray…She digs lovingly into the woman’s extrovert outrageous life style, but also finds the wonder, the sadness and insecurity, which lurk not far beneath – Coventry Evening Telegraph

Splendidly moving…Tina Gray here accomplishes almost the impossible; playing Terry during each stage of her long life, she gives her an impish, ebullient hue that strengthens into a sterling courage during her not-too-infrequent periods of misfortune. The Scotsman

Ellen Terry came alive on the stage of the Swan Theatre on Sunday night…Tina Gray’s performance was astounding in the sheer breadth of life and experience she managed to pack into two hours…The energy and dynamism of the whole performance if harnessed could have kept the town lit up for a year.  – The Stratford-upon-Avon Herald

Exhilarating Stuff!  Put aside any Yorkshire logic that a show with one performer can’t be value for money.  When that woman is Ellen Terry/Tina Gray it is. –  Yorkshire Evening Post