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Marda "Scrappy" Vanne (born Margaretha van Hulsteyn)[Note 1] (27 Sep 1896 – 27 April 1970) was a South African actress who found fame in London.:48
Margaretha was born in Pretoria, South Africa to Sir Willem and Lady van Hulsteyn. Willem was born in the Netherlands in 1865 and emigrated to South Africa at the age of fifteen. He became a leading lawyer in Johannesburg and later a member of the South African Parliament for many years. During the South African War, he became an advisor to Lord Milner, the Governor of the Cape Colony, and was knighted by King Edward VII in 1902.
She was briefly married to Johannes Gerhardus "Hans" Strijdom, but divorced within a year. Strijdom later went on to become Prime Minister of South Africa from 1954 until 1958.:48
In 1914, Marda met Isaac Rosenberg, who was on a visit to South Africa, in Cape Town. He took a shine to her and drew a charcoal sketch of her. He also gave her a copy of his poem "If You Are Fire, and I Am Fire" and wrote a number of passionate love-poems at the time, which seem to have been inspired by her.
Marda Vanne moved to London in 1918 to build on her acting career and studied speech training and drama under Elsie Fogerty at the Central School of Speech and Drama, then based at the Royal Albert Hall, London. After graduating she met director Basil Dean who recognised her talent and she had a successful career in the West End. She also performed on Broadway in Noël Coward's Easy Virtue (1925), directed by Dean, and Many Waters (1929) by Monckton Hoffe.
Marda became a good friend of Alec Waugh, the brother of Evelyn Waugh. Alec noted in one of his books that Marda tended to be cast in supporting roles. He suggested that it was because she "lacked sex appeal on stage. ... She lacked lightness. She did not look embraceable. I pictured her in more emotional roles, as a mature woman." He wrote that although she had several affairs with men, her main interest was women.
John Gielgud also became a good friend of Marda's and mentions her in his writings.
In London, she formed a professional and personal partnership with actress Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies that lasted until her death in 1970. The couple founded a theatre company in South Africa, at the outbreak of World War II, when most of the London theatres were dark. They toured the provinces, including appearances at the Hoffmeyer Theatre in Cape Town. There they performed their production of Twelfth Night in which Marda played Maria and Gwen played Olivia. They also produced and acted in the play Quality Street by James Barrie. They played 44 towns in fifteen weeks and made a small profit. Vanne also appeared as Madame Arcati in a production of Blythe Spirit in Johannesburg, and she and Gwen brought their production of The Merry Wives of Windsor to the Alhambra Theatre in Cape Town in 1945.
In 1950, Marda directed an Afrikaans translation of Grumpy, by Horace Hodges and T. Wigney Percyval called Oupa Brompie for the National Theatre Organisation (NTO) of South Africa.
They produced The Dam by South African writer Guy Butler in 1952, which the author criticised for portraying the Coloured (mixed-race) characters as caricatures.
Vanne gained British Citizenship in 1965.:57 She died of cancer in 1970.
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