Writer’s new show celebrates Clemence Dane, ‘the invisible woman of British culture’

Rose Collis
Rose Collis

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, and at Arundel Jailhouse, Duke’s Path, off High Street, Arundel, on Tuesday, January 12, at 7.30pm.

In the piece, Clemence Dane – artist, playwright, journalist and screenwriter − is asked by 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.”

Rose, who lives in Telscombe Cliffs 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.’

“Yet her name and achievements are almost forgotten today.

“Among 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 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) and Colonel Barker’s Monstrous Regiment: A Tale of Female Husbandry (Virago 2000 and 2001).

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