Sad news tonight of the passing of Geraldine McEwan, aged 82. A veteran of Olivier’s National at the Old Vic — for whom she was once announced to star as Miss Adelaide in a production of Guys and Dolls that never happened — I first saw her as part of Peter Hall’s National in the 1980s, starring in a double-bill of Rattigan’s The Browning Version and Harlequinade, with Alec McCowen and Nicky Henson, both of whom we’ve also now lost.
Into the 90s, she was stunning in Ionesco’s The Chairs at the Royal Court, opposite the late Richard Briers, and from where they transferred to reprise it on Broadway. That was a project she’d initiated herself, telling Playbill’s Harry Haun when it transferred to New York in 1998: “I was reading plays, as one does, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll have a look at Ionesco, but I should think it’s old hat.’ I had no idea [The Chairs] had so much in it for an audience. I thought it would be a play of its time — the fifties — but when I read it, I was immediately intrigued by it.”
As she went on to tell Haun, “The germ started with me, then Simon responded, and he took it from there. Still, it’s satisfying to actually initiate something yourself instead of waiting for people to ask you to do things that you either want to do or don’t want to do. It’s a lovely feeling.”