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Dilys Hamlett

Born: 31 March, 1928, in Hampshire

Died: 7 November, 2002, in hospital in Kirkcaldy, aged 74

AN actress of much versatility, Dilys Hamlett brought a refined inner depth to her stage heroines. She was, perhaps, seen to best advantage at the Theatre Royal, Manchester. But latterly she had moved north to live in Cupar and made several appearances with Scottish companies for which she is fondly remembered. Ms Hamlett, with her husband, was involved in the founding of the ’59 Theatre Company, which specialised in touring high-quality productions of the classics.

Dilys Hamlett graduated from the Old Vic Theatre School in 1953 and was soon a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, alternating between Ophelia to Alan Badel’s Hamlet and Mary Tyrone in A Long Day’s Journey into Night . She also understudied Vivien Leigh at Stratford while playing other parts.

While still a student, Ms Hamlett had married the Finnish-born director Caspar Wrede (typically during a lunch break) and, in 1959, he with Michael Elliott formed the ’59 Theatre Company. Ms Hamlett was to appear in many of their productions and was closely involved in the company’s artistic policy, not least when the company formed the nucleus of the new Manchester Royal Exchange Company in the Seventies.

The first seasons were staged at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith , and Ms Hamlett gave a memorable performance as Agnes to Patrick McGoohan’s Brand and as Julie in Buchner’s rarely performed Danton’s Death. In 1963, she appeared in the final Old Vic season (in which she took over Desdemona in Othello) before joining the ’59 Company for its first visit to the Edinburgh Festival. They brought an enchanting version of Ibsen’s Little Eyolf to the Lyceum, and Ms Hamlett’s Rita was much praised.

In 1968, Hamlett returned to the Festival in a controversial production (by her husband) of Hamlet with Tom Courtney as the brooding Prince. The Assembly Hall was filled for three weeks and Ms Hamlett’s subtle Gertrude was, again, praised. But the production received some savaging from the press. Perhaps surprisingly, the usually acerbic Harold Hobson in the Sunday Times applauded the acting and commented: "I was absolutely absorbed by the action of the play, which no-one else has ever made clear to me."

In 1999, Ms Hamlett decided to move north - her son is a leading gynaecologist and lives in Fife - and she immediately set about, with typical energy and drive, establishing her career in Scotland. She gave many delightful performances with BBC Scotland’s Comedy Unit and at the 2001 Pitlochry Festival was the mother in David Hare’s incisive new play Amy’s View.

Ms Hamlett had always enjoyed being part of a company. She responded to confidence built up in an ensemble. Just as she had been part of Michael Elliott’s and Caspar Wrede’s companies in the past, she found strength with the director Michael Winter.

Now artistic director of the Perth Theatre, Winter remembers Ms Hamlett with much admiration "both as an actress and a friend". He directed her in his first production at York’s Theatre Royal in 1974, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and his first production (Hay Fever, 1984) and last (The Aspern Papers) at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester. So it was entirely appropriate, but sad, that Ms Hamlett’s last appearance on stage was directed by Winter in Perth last year in Ronald Harwood’s Quartet .

Ms Hamlett’s final performance will be seen next year on BBC Television. She filmed a mountain-rescue drama called Rockface on the hills around Fort William last year.

She died of a brain haemorrhage and is survived by her son, David. The marriage to Caspar Wrede was dissolved in 1976.

 
 
 

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