published 11/05/2012 at 18:23 BST by Michael Coveney
Vivacious Irish actor best known for her role opposite Albert Finney in Tom Jones
The red-haired, vivacious and provocative Irish actor Joyce Redman, who has died aged 93, will for ever be remembered for her lubricious meal-time munching and swallowing opposite Albert Finney in Tony Richardson's 1963 film of Tom Jones. Eyes locked, lips smacked and jaws rotated as the two of them tucked into a succulent feast while eyeing up the afters. Sinking one's teeth into a role is one thing. This was quite another, and deliciously naughty, the mother of all modern mastication scenes.
Redman and Finney were renewing a friendship forged five years earlier when both appeared with Charles Laughton in Jane Arden's The Party at the New (now the Noël Coward) theatre. Redman was not blamed by the critic Kenneth Tynan for making nothing of her role as Laughton's wife. "Nothing," he said, "after all, will come of nothing."
But a great deal did come of her association with other titans of the day, especially Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier in their Old Vic and New theatre seasons during and after the second world war. She starred as Anne Boleyn opposite Rex Harrison in New York in Anne of the Thousand Days (1948) and was twice nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actress: first in Tom Jones, then as Emilia in the 1965 film of Olivier's Othello.
Redman was born and bred in Newcastle, County Mayo, one of four sisters in an Anglo-Irish family. She was educated privately by a governess and trained for the stage at Rada in London, making her debut in 1935 as First Tiger Lily in Alice Through the Looking Glass at the Playhouse. She was established as a regular on the West End stage, and in the club theatres, by wartime. She was George Bernard Shaw's Essie, "a wild, timid-looking creature with black hair and tanned skin", in The Devil's Disciple, at the Piccadilly in 1940, followed in 1942 with Maria in Twelfth Night at the Arts theatre and Wendy in Peter Pan at the Winter Garden.
Those Old Vic and New theatre seasons were the defining period: an acclaimed Solveig in the Ralph Richardson production of Ibsen's Peer Gynt; Louka in Shaw's Arms and the Man; Lady Anne in the legendary Richard III of Olivier; Cordelia to the same actor's King Lear; Sonya in Uncle Vanya; and Doll Tearsheet in Henry IV Part 2 (though James Agate, for some reason, thought her too small to play rampageous bawds).
Redman toured to the Comédie-Française in Paris, conquered Broadway, played the title role in Jean Anouilh's Colombe, directed by Peter Brook in 1951, then went to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1955 to play Helena in All's Well That Ends Well and Mistress Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor. She could play light comedy and stern tragedy, as she demonstrated to many devoted gallery-ites during Olivier's exciting inaugural National theatre seasons at the Old Vic in the early 1960s.
Her Emilia in Othello, playing that great bedroom scene with Maggie Smith's Desdemona, was indeed unforgettable, and she was a whirlwind as Elizabeth Proctor in Arthur Miller's The Crucible (directed by Olivier) and a heartbreaking Juno Boyle in Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock.
Although she made a mark in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942), her film successes were limited to Tom Jones and Othello. A more topical departure came with the birth-control movie comedy, Ronald Neame's Prudence and the Pill (1968), starring Deborah Kerr and David Niven. Her character became pregnant when her daughter stole some contraceptive pills and replaced them with aspirin, thus undermining her own mother's "liberation".
After several years away from the stage, Redman was enticed back to the National theatre to play opposite Ralph Richardson in Tolstoy's The Fruits of Enlightenment in 1979. She joined a new touring company, Compass, directed by her old friend Anthony Quayle, to appear in The Clandestine Marriage on tour, and in the West End, in 1984, and, three years later, she returned to Broadway as Mrs Higgins, mother to Peter O'Toole's irascible phonetician, in Shaw's Pygmalion.
Back in London, Richard Eyre, new boss at the National, cast her in 1990 as the Duchess of York in Ian McKellen's 1930s fascist Richard III. She reminded one critic of the ancient Marie of Romania; another, of an Alan Bennett dowager about to throw on a third row of pearls. Eyre called on her again to play Evelyn, the mother-in-law of Esme (Judi Dench), in David Hare's Amy's View (1997). She pottered around the stage sarcastically before being immobilised with Alzheimer's disease in the third act, death creeping in by inches. With Esme's daughter Amy played by Samantha Bond, the 16-year span of the play also represented a dynamic dynasty of contemporary acting.
That was Redman's last stage role, and she completed a busy television career (which included spots in the 1990s in Prime Suspect and the Ruth Rendell mysteries) with an elderly Queen Victoria in Victoria & Albert in 2001.
She had retained her links with home when she bought the island of Beirtreach (three miles by three-quarters of a mile) off the Mayo coast in 1949. In the same year, she married Charles Wynne Roberts while appearing in New York. He predeceased her. She is survived by their three children and five grandchildren.
Joyce Redman, actor, born 9 December 1918; died 9 May 2012
published 11/05/2012 at 18:23 BST by Michael Coveney