Sorrel Carson, the founder of the Academy of Live & Recorded Arts, died at the age of 85 on April 12. After a distinguished career in the theatre, she single-handedly founded ALRA in 1979 and remained as its principal for 21 years.
Born on March 20, 1920 she trained as an actress in the legendary Ben Greet Academy of Acting, achieving her first professional engagement with the Sheffield Repertory Theatre at the outbreak of the Second World War. At that time it was mandatory for people of her age, in their early twenties, to be in the army or the Entertainments National Service Association. She joined ENSA where she performed in four productions over a two year period and later became production assistant to the great Fred O’Donovan in the early days of television at Alexandra Palace.
During the first Edinburgh Festival she played Good Deeds in Hugo von Hoffmannsthal’s production of Everyman.
Her greatest theatrical claim to fame was adapting the Academy Award winning film Johnny Belinda for the stage, in which she opened at the Theatre Royal Brighton, followed by a tour lasting over two years. That tour was extended for a long season in East Germany, during which she repeated the role twice on TV in Berlin. She seemed destined to stay with Johnny Belinda for a great part of her career, going on to play it for Remigio Paone in Milan, followed by a tour to every major theatre in Italy.
An accepted authority on the theatre of her native Ireland, she was invited by Bertolt Brecht’s wife Helene Weigel to join her husband’s Berliner Ensemble for their production of JM Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World. She always insisted that this enlightening experience was to influence her work henceforth both as an actress and a director.
She returned to London with her new husband John Hanau to run a 10-month repertory season at the Theatre Royal, Aldershot before going on to form a group called The Actor’s Study in Hampstead. This was indeed pioneering work to encourage professional actors to meet, improvise and experience different styles of acting, giving Carson her first teaching experience.
After a long stint directing plays in the seventies at both the Mercury Theatre and the Young Vic she started to teach at Arts Educational School, where she met Bridget Espinosa. Together they set up their own dance and drama school as co-principals.
From that beginning she went on to found ALRA at the Royal Victoria Building in Wandsworth in 1979 which she virtually ruled as principal, with the patronage of her great friend, the late Joan Littlewood, until she retired in 2000 at the age of 80.
Carson died after a long illness and those of us who now govern the destiny of that great school owe her a great debt for her exceptional teaching tradition which was, and is, the unique trademark of ALRA.
Chairman, ALRA Trustees