Lost Midhurst star is recalled in stage show

Rose Collis
Rose Collis
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A forgotten former resident of Midhurst will live once again in a new one-woman play about the life of Clemence Dane.

Wanting the Moon, written and performed by Rose Collis and directed by Keith Drinkel, will be at the Marlborough Theatre, 4 Princes Street, Brighton on Friday, January 8, and Saturday, January 9, at 7.30pm.

The production will then move on for a date at Arundel Jailhouse, Duke’s Path, off High Street, Arundel on Tuesday, January 12, at 7.30pm.

In the piece, Clemence Dane – eminent author, artist, playwright, journalist and Oscar-winning screenwriter − is asked by her great friend Noel Coward to revive her acting career and play the famous role he created for her: the eccentric medium Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit.

As writer Rose explains: “As she prepares to give him her answer, she reflects on their long personal and professional relationship − as well as memorable episodes from her chequered career, including penning the controversial early-20th century lesbian novel Regiment of Women, her experiences in both world wars and her adventures in Hollywood with Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and The Marx Brothers.

“But her favourite role was being the devoted and doting ‘den mother’ of the Tavistock Set, her beloved circle of friends and acquaintances who gathered in her ramshackle Covent Garden flat and her caravans in Sussex for 30 years, including Coward himself, Ivor Novello and Joyce Grenfell.”

Rose, who lives in Telscombe Cliffs, East Sussex, explains: “Clemence was the invisible woman of British 20th-century culture: a highly-prolific and popular English novelist, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, sculptor, painter, broadcaster, lecturer and pioneering feminist who died 50 years ago, described by her great friend Noel Coward as ‘a wonderful unique mixture of artist, writer, games mistress, poet and egomaniac.’

And yet, Rose laments, Clemence Dane’s name and achievements are almost forgotten today, lost from history – a mistake Rose is trying to put right through the show this year.

“Amongst other things, she was the first British woman screenwriter ever to win an Oscar; the inspiration for eccentric medium Madame Arcati in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit and a highly-regarded scriptwriter in Hollywood and Britain.”

Rose added: “Towards the end of the Second World War, Clemence Dane bought three-gaily painted gypsy caravans without toilets and plonked them in the corner of a field at Pendean, Midhurst.”

Rose added: “There are great stories about Hollywood moguls like David O Selznick visiting her there and being utterly dismayed by the fact that, although there was ice for their drinks, they had to go to the loo in the field!

“Other famous visitors included Noel Coward.”

Rose is a writer, alternative historian and performer who has lived and worked in Sussex since 1997. Her books include Death and the City (Hanover Press 2013), The New Encyclopaedia of Brighton (2010), This Effing Lady: Coral Browne (Oberon Books 2007), Colonel Barker’s Monstrous Regiment: A Tale of Female Husbandry (Virago 2000 and 2001); and A Trouser-Wearing Character: The Life and Times of Nancy Spain (Cassell 1997 and 1999).

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