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Obituary: Violet Marriott

Violet Marriott. Photo: Peckham Peculiar Violet Marriott. Photo: Peckham Peculiar

Violet ‘Vi’ Marriott had a remarkable career in the theatre, working alongside Laurence Olivier at the Old Vic and with Frank Dunlop at the Young Vic, where for 25 years she was so integral to its success she could truthfully be described as its co-creator.

Born in the East End of London, her paternal grandmother – a dancer at the Whitechapel Music Hall – instilled in her a love of theatre. Seeing a young John Gielgud in Richard of Bordeaux at the Streatham Hill Theatre, she straight away decided that the theatre was where she wanted to work.

Having trained as a shorthand typist, during the Second World War she worked for Frank Whittle at the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Even late in life, she could describe perfectly how a jet engine worked.

After the war, she obtained an interview with the Old Vic, then at the New (now Noel Coward) Theatre. Her knowledge of the repertory gleaned from frequent visits secured her the job as secretary to the manager, Laurence Evans. Giving her a particularly difficult first assignment, he called her in and said: “But there are no mistakes.” “No, Mr Evans, I typed it,” she replied with suitable hauteur. They never really liked each other from then on.

She stayed with the company when it returned to its renovated Waterloo home to work with the new director Hugh Hunt. They developed a close working relationship and in 1955, when he was asked to set up the Elizabethan Theatre Trust, Australia’s first National Theatre, she went with him to Sydney.

In 1960, she returned to England to nurse her ailing father. While working with Roger Clifford’s theatre PR company, she met Frank Dunlop, newly invited by Olivier to join the fledgling National Theatre Company.

Keen to establish a theatre for young people, Dunlop launched the Young Vic company as an experimental five-year project. Marriott joined him and stayed there for the next 20 years, organising tours, acting as stage manager on overseas visits, or just oiling the wheels behind the scenes.

One of the talents to join the company was the actor Andrew Visnevski, already eager to try his hand at directing. They immediately developed a rapport and, always keen to help young talent, Marriott helped him found his own Cherub Company in 1978.

While continuing to work at the Young Vic, she acted as Cherub’s administrator, organising tours in the UK and abroad for the British Council. A skilled writer, she dramatised Jan Potocki’s Tales from the Saragossa Manuscript for Cherub as Ten Days’ A-Maze, which won awards at the 1997 Edinburgh Fringe.

Violet Olive Marriott was born on March 17, 1920, and died on December 17, 2017, aged 97. She was appointed an MBE in 2009.

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