Friday 5th September 2014

Everyone at Nottingham Playhouse is saddened to hear of the death of Marielaine Church (née Douglas).

Marielaine Church started out as Acting ASM at the old Nottingham Playhouse in 1961, before becoming an actor in the John Neville company at the “new” Playhouse, from 1963 until 1966. Along with Judi Dench, Marielaine was part of the company that toured West Africa in 1963 – the first professional theatre company to do so.

Marielaine was also a Trustee of Nottingham Playhouse in the 1990s as well as, for 25 years, a hugely well-respected drama teacher at Clarendon College.

Giles Croft, Artistic Director of Nottingham Playhouse commented:

“When I arrived in Nottingham, Marielaine was the first of the Playhouse old guard to offer the hand of friendship by inviting me to lunch with her and her husband Tony. Before she moved to Chichester following Tony’s death we had a number of those freewheeling and gossipy lunches and they were always a pleasure. She had a desire to pass on her knowledge of the history of the Playhouse, but she was also passionately interested in the present and completely understood the need for a vision of the future. On her last visit in 2013 for the opening of the Neville Studio she was frail, but as lively in mind and spirit as ever. I will miss her generosity, wit and support.”

Stephanie Sirr, Chief Executive of Nottingham Playhouse commented:

“Marielaine’s relationship with Nottingham Playhouse spanned decades – as an actress, board member, audience member, supporter and writer. She was a wonderfully energetic and engaged person – truly committed to theatre and full of ideas. She will be hugely missed by everybody at the Playhouse.”

A long-time supporter of Nottingham Playhouse, Marielaine also interviewed all of the theatre’s Artistic Directors, creating an important historical document and an addition to this theatre’s archives. She also wrote an entertaining account of her memories of the old Playhouse at Goldsmith Street, painting a vivid portrait of the earliest days of Nottingham Playhouse and the cramped theatre that housed the theatre company from 1948 until 1963:

“It smelt like hell. Opening the door off Goldsmith Street tipped you straight onstage and into a crew of workers – flats and braces moving swiftly; handfuls of Fresnels clunking against each other; kneeling figures sawing; stretching arms atop ladders hanging battens; and on the stage floor large paintbrushes making wet patterns on cloth…added to the dead horse stink was the stench of ancient furnace billowing up the circular staircase stage right and filling the air with eye watering, nose twitching fumes. I had arrived at the old Nottingham Playhouse.

“Fresh out of drama school I wasn’t quite prepared for that atmosphere of rough energy and blatant ugliness. And where, oh where was the Stage Door Keeper who would hold flowers and messages for us artistes? Who would ring up for a taxi if there was a party after the show? Well, for a start there wasn’t a stage door person as there wasn’t even a stage door. What there was, or what there seemed to be, was a drop from the street on to the stage. I backed away. I went around to the Front of House and enquired where I might find the stage manager.

“That was reassuring. There was a box office – a mite dinky, but with a window and a lady in a cardigan behind the window with little boxes of coloured tickets arrayed around her on the walls. The foyer was not just poky it was so small it was as if children had structured a miniature theatre and had got bored by the time they got to designing the Front of House.

“As an ASM sent to get tapes and props, I can remember walking across a backcloth while it was in the process of being painted. You were not chastised. Everybody had to follow the same trail. I suppose it was almost romantic, the accumulation of dust and dirt. Tapes snaking across the sound room and dragged by feet out the door; slivers of Cinemoid curling into colourful batches everywhere…the head of the paintshop wore a long woollen scarf around his neck whatever the weather. He cleaned the paint off his hand with it and wrapped it around his head in the severest of chilly weather.”

We were delighted that Marielaine returned to Nottingham Playhouse last year to celebrate the launch of the Neville Studio and to see The Kite Runner.

Marielaine was married to Tony Church (who died in 2006), Chief Technician at Nottingham Playhouse (1950 – 63) before a long and distinguished career as a broadcaster at BBC Radio Nottingham. Their son, Jonathan Church, is Artistic Director of Chichester Festival Theatre.


Main image: Marielaine giving notes to Artistic Director, John Neville.

In the photo gallery (l-r):

Marielaine with John Neville in Alfie (1964); Marielaine with Mary Healey in Hedda Gabler (1966); Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company photograph (1964). Marielaine can be seen standing behind John Neville; Marielaine with Ursula Smith at the launch of the Neville Studio (May 2013). In her last performance at Nottingham Playhouse, Marielaine starred in Ronald Magill’s production of Hedda Gabler (1966) with Ursula Smith.