Matyelok Gibbs obituary


For Matyelok Gibbs, who has died aged 91, 70 years in theatre and movie have been as a lot an journey as a profession. And kids have been on the coronary heart of it, notably by way of her quarter of a century’s involvement with the Unicorn theatre in London, of which she was inventive director from 1973 to 1977.

Gibbs succeeded her mentor Caryl Jenner within the put up having labored with that inspirational determine because the early Nineteen Fifties. Jenner had launched the touring Cellular theatre for youngsters in 1949, renaming it the Unicorn in 1962 and taking a lease on the Arts theatre membership close to Leicester Sq. tube station in 1967 because the Arts Council provided its first, belated public funding.

The Unicorn, relocated in its new purpose-built theatre on the South Financial institution close to Tower Bridge in 2005, is a long-established a part of the capital’s theatre ecology, alongside its equally illustrious producers of theatre for youngsters, the Little Angel puppet theatre in Islington, nonetheless going robust after 60 years, and the pleasant Polka theatre in Wimbledon, which opened in 1979.

Gibbs acted and designed exhibits all through her Unicorn days and launched a second “grown-up” profession as an achieved character actor in Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Instances Desk (1978) on the Globe (now the Gielgud). She performed a deaf octogenarian belting out present tunes on the piano whereas a neighborhood pageant celebrating a historic bloodbath disintegrates within the climactic, hilarious closing scene.

On movie, she performed Erik’s mum in Terry Jones’s Erik the Viking (1989) – Tim Robbins was Erik, discovering there is perhaps extra to life than raping and pillaging, with Mickey Rooney as Erik’s granddad – and Auntie Muriel Weasley in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2010), a gaudily attired, impolite and gossipy great-great-aunt of the Weasley youngsters resembling a bad-tempered flamingo.

She had accomplished a journey from youngsters’s champion to vibrant outdated crone, embracing each roles with zest and glee.

She was born in Leatherhead, Surrey, to Eric Gibbs, the chairman of Bradbury Wilkinson, engravers and printers, and his spouse Olga Postnikoff, a refugee from revolutionary Russia who labored in Britain for the Crimson Cross. Each dad and mom had had earlier marriages and Matyelok had two half- brothers, John and Michael.

Matyelok (Russian for “moth”) was born with pointed, elfin ears and immediately nicknamed “Puck” by her mom, a moniker she carried fortunately by way of life. She was raised in Leatherhead and London, with a cheerful wartime evacuation in Gorran Haven, a fishing village in Cornwall. After boarding in Devon, she attended Queen’s Gate faculty in South Kensington and educated for the stage at Webber Douglas.

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Matyelok Gibbs (Assunta), proper, with Julie Walters (Serafina Delle Rose) in The Rose Tattoo by Tennessee Williams on the Playhouse Theatre, London, 1991. {Photograph}: Donald Cooper/Alamy

When the author and actor Ursula Jones joined Jenner’s firm in 1959, she and Gibbs struck up a lifelong friendship. They lived collectively in London, first in Oxford Gardens, Notting Hill, from 1961. To their mates and colleagues, they have been bracketed collectively as “Puck and Ursie”, like Crosse & Blackwell or Marks & Spencer.

Jones wrote two dozen performs for the Unicorn, notably The Lion and the Unicorn Hullabaloo, a road present on the animals’ battle for the crown, incorporating a sequence of clown and acrobatic expertise, and fights with rapiers and soda siphons. Gibbs scouted for playwrights so as to add to the repertoire of works for youngsters.

Her roster included such distinguished and spirited writers as Diana Wynne Jones (Ursula’s elder sister), Ann Jellicoe, Henry Livings, John Arden, David Rudkin and Ken Campbell.

When Jenner died in 1973, the Unicorn had just about hit the rocks. The Higher London council’s funding in the direction of the proposed new theatre was withdrawn, however Gibbs saved the undertaking alive, as did her successors, together with Tony Graham who supervised the opening throughout his Unicorn tenure between 1997 and 2011.

As each actor and director, Gibbs’s gurus have been Stanislavsky and Michael Chekhov, architects of recent theories of efficiency rooted in naturalism and psychological motivation. She had a practised eye for performing expertise, and requirements have been invariably excessive. She solely felt barely constrained on the Arts when she was obliged to share the premises with night productions whose designs typically restricted these of the day-time youngsters’s exhibits.

She spent a season with the Royal Shakespeare Firm on tour in 1979-80, showing in A lot Ado About Nothing as Ursula, in Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle and, on the Warehouse, in robust new performs by Barrie Keeffe and Howard Barker.

In a French play, The Workshop, translated by Tom Kempinski, on the Hampstead theatre in 1981, she was a prim old-timer in a postwar tailoring manufacturing unit, and on the Nationwide Theatre in 1989, a notable Woman Bountiful, a deluded herbalist who “makes her personal water”, in George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem.

Her finest position on tv was in The Jewel and the Crown (1984), Granada’s epic sequence based mostly on Paul Scott’s quartet of novels on the tip of the British Raj, the place she exhibited reserves of compassion and knowledge as Sister Ludmilla, a Russian nun within the youngsters’s compound the place Daphne Manners (Susan Wooldridge) goes to assist, and for refuge, after she has been raped and change into pregnant.

Her different movies included two by Agnieszka Holland – To Kill a Priest (1988) and Copying Beethoven (2006) – in addition to Stephen Soderbergh’s experimental Kafka (1991) and Claude Lelouch’s thriller And Now … Girls and Gents (2002).

After Gibbs’s near-terminal brush with most cancers, “Puck and Ursie” decamped to a village north-west of Toulouse, in France, the place they stayed for 23 years, whereas conserving a pied-a-terre in London. They lived a full social life amongst mates and colleagues. For a time, they ran a adorned furnishings store. Gibbs liked portray, and the couple made lovely properties wherever they went.

Their relationship was ratified as a civil partnership in France after which in 2004 in Britain. Gibbs is survived by Jones.

Her half-brothers each predeceased her.


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