Kate Flaherty on Ellen Terry’s 1914 Tour

‘Permitted to be a person’: Re-reading Ellen Terry’s 1914 Tour to the ‘Antipodes’

Join us for this week’s CuSPP Seminar

Thursday 24 October, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

In 1914, at the age of 67, the most celebrated star of London stage embarked on a tour to Australia and New Zealand. Ellen Terry’s doctor and close family were against the venture, and biographers and theatre historians have dismissed it as ill-judged or indicative of her mental decline. In my paper I challenge this reading. I excavate media interviews and performance reviews to examine Terry’s responsive and intelligent interactions with her Australian and New Zealand audiences. These reveal her eager and critical interest in the experience of female suffrage – won in these nations long before it was granted in Britain. Terry’s correspondence from this period also reveals a lively sense of adventure and a vivid responsiveness to the land and flora which has been utterly elided by accounts that focus on her anxiety and illness. Along with Sarah Bernhardt’s, Terry’s is one of the most documented stage lives of all time. The cursory treatment given to her 1914 tour all of her biographers reveals a pervasive paradigm of theatre history: that the life narrative of the actress is read through narratives of her nation of origin. This sits at odds with dynamic and transitory life experience and influence of many touring actresses in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. My study of Terry is the first of six chapters in a book that investigates the moving lives of some of these moving women.

Kate Flaherty is a SeniorLecturer in English and Drama in the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics, ANU. Kate’s research focuses on how Shakespeare’s works play on the stage of public culture. Her monograph Ours as We Play it: Australia Plays Shakespeare (UWAP, 2011) examined three plays in performance in contemporary Australia. More recent work investigates Shakespeare on the colonial stage and its public interplay with education, gender politics, imperialism, and sectarian friction.

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