September 30, 2007

EDITH CAMPION 1924 – 2007

John Smythe      posted 18 Sep 2007, 09:46 AM / edited 18 Sep 2007, 10:25 AM

A crucial player in the establishment of professional theatre in New Zealand, Edith Campion died on Sunday 16 September, with her family around her.  The funeral will be a private family affair, then

– on Friday 21 September

– from 3pm,

– at The Winemaker’s Daughter, 1081 State Highway 1, Te Horo (approx 2k north of the Red House Cafe)

friends and members of the theatre community are invited to join the family to remember and celebrate Edith.

In the early 1950s Edith and Richard Campion established The New Zealand Players, an ambitious enterprise that struggled financially despite some excellent productions, like Shaw’s St Joan (1955) with Edith in the title role. Edith was a member of the Hannah family (the shoe retailers). It was thanks to her financial backing that the NZ Players was able to survive long enough to consolidate the idea of professional theatre in New Zealand. (Downstage Theatre went on to develop a more viable model for professional theatre and it was Edith’s first cousin, Sheilah Winn, who later saw that company into the Hannah Playhouse.)

PLEASE USE THIS FORUM to post your own tributes and share your memories of Edith, to acknowledge the legacy she has given to theatre in New Zealand.

Rebecca Mason                 posted 18 Sep 2007, 12:47 PM

Edith and Dick Campion were my parents’ best friends.  Their children were about the same age as us, and we were constantly in each other’s houses as we were growing up.  My mother, Diana, also died recently and when I was going through her photos, I came across a large number that featured Edith.  The friendship, I know, enriched my parents’ lives but it also enriched our lives as well.

Edith was a very generous friend to me and a wise person to talk to as I was growing up and as an adult.  She was part of the history and fabric of my life and I will miss her.  I am grateful that I have kept in touch with her during the years – we had regular phone contact up until very recently.

Every so often during my life, I would be charmed and delighted by a generous gesture from Edith.  Last year I came home to a huge bunch of flowers from her to acknowledge the support I was giving Diana.

I know that Edith made a major contribution to New Zealand theatre, but I will personally remember her for her generosity, her intelligence and creativity, and her wicked sense of humour.

Nic Farra              posted 18 Sep 2007, 01:16 PM / edited 18 Sep 2007, 03:11 PM

Funny how images remain from formative years. Edith taught a Shakespeare ‘unit’ at drama school when I was there in 1984. Mirabelle Harcourt and I were Orsino and Viola in a few scenes that Edith was workshopping and she was always so gentle despite my lack of voice control, abominable phrasing and failure to understand a lot of what she said!

Years later I played Aguecheek at the Court and it was while watching the same scenes rehearsed there that I got what she was on about saw the simplicity of it. Students often want to over complicate things, I think and Edith emphasised a more direct path to the heart of the text.

No matter what you may think of style (old skool vs new) her experience in playing Shakespeare, lots of it, before a wide variety of audiences was very telling.

A great loss.

Miranda Harcourt            posted 19 Sep 2007, 11:08 PM

I too remember that workshop Edith did with us at Drama School, it is one of the few things I do retain from that time and her passion and skill were fierce and inspirational. She had a wicked sense of humour and worked with Nic and I to capture some of the humour between Orsino and Viola as she struggles to hide her true identity.

Jane captured a snapshot of Edith the teacher as Miss Lindsay in An Angel at My Table. The photos that remain of Edith as an actress are luminous, especially the one as Joan of Arc. I never saw her perform, but I have seen that photograph on different walls all my life!

Our performing arts culture is so young. It is great that we have the opportunity to acknowledge Edith and the spadework she and Richard put into building the foundations that support the complex architecture of our industry.

Her support continues with “The NZ Players’ Trust” and her legacy lives on in the work of her children and her students.

Thank you Edith

Chris Prowse      posted 20 Sep 2007, 05:41 PM / edited 22 Sep 2007, 02:02 PM

I have very fond memories of Edith from when she and I were on the Downstage Theatre Board in the eighties. She was such a warm person and it was something special to have someone with Edith’s theatre credentials on the board at that time.

It is many years since I’ve seen Edith but I remember very vividly our last conservation standing in the sunshine on the main street of Otaki. I was on holiday on the Kapiti Coast and Edith was shopping. I remember her smiling face and her taking the time to have chat.

Of late our association has continued in a more indirect way through the New Zealand Players Theatre Trust. I agree with Miranda that it is wonderful that Edith’s contribution to New Zealand theatre can live on through the work of the trust.

I’m sure Edith will have a special place in all our hearts when we think back about the important milestones in the development of New Zealand Theatre. We will miss you

Bill Sheat             posted 21 Sep 2007, 07:56 AM / edited 22 Sep 2007, 12:53 PM

My most lasting memory of Edith is as a performer. I remember vividly seeing her in a production in the old Concert Chamber in the 1950s not long after she and Richard had returned to New Zealand and before the N.Z. Players had started. Regrettably I can’t recall the title of the play and hope that my memory will be jogged by someone at a Te Horo this afternoon. What I do remember is this luminous presence on stage. It is such a pity that her acting career wound down. (As I hoped my memory was jogged. The play was Brecht’s ‘Caucasian Chalk Circle’ which Dick Campion directed for Unity. Looking back I realise that Brecht’s much vaunted theory of verframsdungseffkt, alienation effect)was able to be subverted  or short circuited when a performer of Edith’s stature was able to create a spark between the character and the audience.)

In the 60s I served with her on the Arts Council’s Drama Panel along with George Swan as Chairman and other members D.D.O’Connor, Allan Highet and John Kim. We debated over a considerable period whether professional theatre should be regional or national. George Swan who had been closely involved with Edith and Dick in the Players was a national advocate. In the end the regionalists were in the majority. They were vigorous discussions and recall Edith contributing her views clearly and forcefully but with her great charm.

Even though the Players were unable to continue, there was no doubting that they led the way showing that we could have our own professional theatre and that the public wanted it. Thank you Edith for your contribution in blazing the trail.

Bill Sheat.

Rachel Underwood         posted 21 Sep 2007, 08:57 AM

Tribute to Edith Campion

Downstage salutes the contribution made by Edith Campion to theatre in New Zealand and extends condolences to her family as you gather to mark her death.

Well known as co-founder of New Zealand Players, Edith was also very supportive of Downstage and acted in several Downstage productions.  Edith was present at the gala opening of Zoo Story in the theatre restaurant in 1964 and was a member of the Downstage Trust Board when it was inaugurated in 1984 and for some time after.

A memorable experience was an afternoon at Edith’s home in Kelburn when she read her poetry, during the 1993 season of events for members, organised by Constance Kirkcaldie for Downstage Theatre Society.  The true dramatic presence was evident.

Edith Campion is a name that features in the 40th anniversary history of the theatre, Downstage Upfront and will continue to be honoured in theatre circles.

Rachel Underwood


Downstage Theatre Society Inc.

18 September 2007

Jonathan Hardy                 posted 24 Sep 2007, 07:42 PM

A message of sympathy to Edith’s immediate family and we who owe much to “The Players.”

When the company collapsed in 1960 I was a student. the company regrouped under Roy Hope and presented Hamlet at the players workshop. the cast including Thane Bettany as the most dynamic Hamlet I with Robin King, Kevin Woodill, Roy Melford, Murray Brown, James Healy and we students.

The audience poured in and only some fire regulation stopped the enterprise.

The players quartet continued some year paying off debts and I believe giving start to Sam Neill John Banas and others.

It was there in the classroom that Bruce Mason came to read us his new End of the Golden Weather.

At its best the company was thrilling we all dreamed of the standards of Bridgit Lenihan, John Gordon, Eric Wood, Tony Groser, Ngaire Dawn-Porter, Edward Petherbridge  and on and on. So when her full family meets and talks Edith and Dick are often their in our turbulent conversations. I believe they met at the Old Vic School with Mac Owan and St Denis which transmute into LAMDA which I, Elric and many others attended.

In that our tradition remembers her I believe the life of Edith is ever honoured in our performance. Would that Simon Prast had been around at the time to fight a New Players into life as he did with the Mercury.

” Sleep, soar, rest. Even the ocean dies.”

Lilian Enting        posted 30 Sep 2007, 09:04 AM

I was very sad to learn of the death of Edith Campion. My first meeting with her was at Jane Campion’s flat in Wellington where Auton Low had sent me to audition for a part in An Angel At My Table. I had heard of Edith of course and knew of her reputation and felt somewhat in awe of her. But I was soon put at ease by both mother and daughter.

I was cast as Miss Crowe, a beautifully written cameo role of a warm hearted teacher, non plussed by Janet’s unresponsiveness. Edith too was cast as a school teacher. Our characters were quite different. I was a busy old dear, nonplussed by Janet’s unresponsive attitude. Edith’s role was quite different. Her overly dramatic recitation to her class with exaggerated movements of the arms, was so like the English teacher of my own school days. I found her unforgettable in that role.

I cannot claim to becoming a close friend. No more than the privilege of a very brief acquaintance with someone I had previously admired from afar. Without her it is likely that there would never have been a company called The New Zealand Players which both she and her husband had formed. Certainly together, they travelled and played in schools and community halls all over New Zealand and their efforts were a major boost to the maturity of professional theatre in this country.

Edith Campion was a great lady. Indeed she has been described as the Queen of New Zealand Theatre. We should not forget her.

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