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Yvonne Bryceland

Yvonne Bryceland
Yvonne Heilbuth

(1925-11-18)18 November 1925
Died13 January 1992(1992-01-13) (aged 66)
Spouse(s)Danny Bryceland, Brian Astbury
ChildrenMavourneen, Colleen, Melanie

Yvonne Bryceland (18 November 1925 – 13 January 1992) was a South African stage actress. Some of her best-known work was in the plays of Athol Fugard.

Early life

She was born Yvonne Heilbuth in Cape Town, South Africa, the daughter of Adolphus Walter Heilbluth, a railway foreman,[1] and Clara Ethel (née Sanderson). She was educated at St. Mary's Convent, Hope St., Cape Town.[2]


Bryceland worked as a newspaper librarian for the Cape Argus before her professional theatrical début in Stage Door in 1947, becoming an actress with the Cape Performing Arts Board in 1964.[3] Prior to her professional career, she had performed as an amateur at the Barn Theatre in Constantia which had been founded by David Bloomberg who later became the mayor of Cape Town.[4] Having had no formal training prior to becoming a professional actress, Bryceland took private lessons with acting teacher Rita Maas (RADA, LAMDA),[5] who with her husband, Morris Phillips, a ballroom dancer, founded the Maas-Phillips School of Dance, Speech and Drama, in Cape Town in the 1950s.

Yvonne's first husband was an immigrant from England named Danny Bryceland, a real-estate salesman. The relationship became abusive and, although a devout Roman Catholic, after urgent consultations with her priest, they were divorced in 1960.[1][4] They had three children – daughters Colleen, Melanie, and Mavourneen,[6] the latter also having a brief but well-received career as an actress.[7]

In 1969, Bryceland performed in the première of Athol Fugard's play Boesman and Lena and repeated the role in the 1974 film version.

Described as the first lady of South African theatre, Bryceland was a committed artist who, in 1972, defied racial segregation by co-founding, with her second husband, Brian Astbury,[3] South Africa's first non-racial theatre, the Space Theatre in Cape Town.[8]

She joined the Royal National Theatre in 1978, making her acclaimed début in The Woman by Edward Bond.[6] She remained with the National Theatre for eight years. She received the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in 1985 for her performance in The Road to Mecca.

Fugard attempted to have The Road to Mecca produced in New York in 1985 but Actors Equity refused to grant Bryceland permission to perform on Broadway on the grounds that she was not an "international star" and therefore not entitled to preference over an American actress.[9] She performed the role in a 1987 production at the Spoleto Festival, which is not subject to Equity contracts, receiving a rave review from the Chicago Tribune:

For sheer emotional range, Bryceland's performance is phenomenal. Barefoot at times, wrapped in a worn cardigan whose sleeves seem to want to cover her hands, the actress journeys from failing old age to heights of insight. She suggests a person reborn into a faith of her own invention. It is a difficult part in a play that is far from easy, but Bryceland gives it a sustained glow.[9]

As a result of the dispute with Equity, Fugard refused to allow the play to be produced by any other company in the United States. In July 1987, Equity relented and gave permission for Bryceland to perform.[10] In 1988, Bryceland appeared in a New York production at the Promenade Theater, off-Broadway, with Fugard as the clergyman and Amy Irving as Miss Helen's friend Elsa,[11][12] receiving an Obie Award for her performance,[13] as well as a Theatre World Award.[2] In 1989, Bryceland reprised her role alongside Fugard at the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Kathy Bates playing the part of Elsa,[14][15] a role she also played in the film version.

In 1987, Bryceland participated in an educational programme at Cornell University developed by the Education Department of the National Theatre of Great Britain for actors in training.[16]


Waking up; A Woman Alone; The Same Old Story; Medea[18]




Yvonne Bryceland died of complications from cancer in 1992 at age 66 in London, United Kingdom.[6]


Her name has sometimes been misspelled as Yvonne Brayceland.


  1. ^ a b "South African Yvonne Bryceland Ventured Far from Her Privileged Roots to Reach the Road to Mecca" (July 18, 1988) People
  2. ^ a b Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia (2000)
  3. ^ a b "Yvonne Bryceland", Encyclopædia Britannica
  4. ^ a b Michael Green (2004) Around and About: Memoires of a South African Newspaperman, David Philip Publishers, Cape Town ISBN 0-86486-660-7
  5. ^ "Provocative Production" (Nov 25, 2008) Cape Times, Cape Town
  6. ^ a b c "Yvonne Bryceland Is Dead at 66; Actress in Plays by Athol Fugard" (Jan 29, 1992) New York Times
  7. ^ "Mavourneen Bryceland" at The Encyclopaedia Of South African Theatre, Film, Media And Performance (ESAT)
  8. ^ a b Staff writer (undated). "The Order of Ikhamanga in Silver Awarded to Yvonne Bryceland (1925–1992) for Excellent Achievement in the Field of Dramatic Art — Profile of Yvonne Bryceland"[permanent dead link]. President of South Africa. Accessed 2 January 2010.
  9. ^ a b "'Mecca' Star Could Rise or Fall with Ruling on International Status" (4 June 1987) Chicago Tribune p. 9
  10. ^ "The Rep zooms on 'The Road to Mecca'" (Feb 19, 1988) Santa Fe New Mexican
  11. ^ Rich, Frank (13 Apr. 1988) "Review/Theater; Athol Fugard's 'Road to Mecca' Examines the Core of Artistry", New York Times
  12. ^ "Irving honors the craft of acting in 'Road to Mecca'" (Apr 19, 1988) Daily Herald Suburban Chicago
  13. ^ "The Actress & the Play Of Conscience; Yvonne Bryceland's Journey From South Africa to 'Mecca'" (5 June 1988) The Washington Post
  14. ^ "Hot productions cool Washington D.C., theaters" (Jun 11, 1989) Annapolis Capital p. E7
  15. ^ "THEATER; Just Whose Role Is It Anyway?" (August 21, 1988) New York Times p.3
  16. ^ "Cornell acting program offered" (January 28, 1987) Marshall Chronicle, Michigan
  17. ^ "A surprising but skillful Caesar" (14 July 1980) The Globe and Mail , Toronto
  18. ^ "Stage View; Dario Fo's Barbed Wit is Aimed at Many Targets" (14 Aug 1983) New York Times
  19. ^ "Yvonne Bryceland; Anti-Apartheid Actress" (Feb 01, 1992) Los Angeles Times
  20. ^ "Cape Visual Artist Honoured for Excellence" (Oct 9, 2006) Cape Times

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