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Obituary: Shirley Barrie – ‘co-founder of the Tricycle Theatre’

Shirley Barrie Shirley Barrie

As one of the co-founders of the Wakefield Tricycle Company and its subsequent incarnation as the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, north London, Shirley Barrie was an early, articulate and committed advocate of theatre’s role as an active and involved community asset.

Born in Tillsonburg, Ontario, Canada, she was part of the influx drawn to London in the wake of the Swinging Sixties. A teacher by training and profession, together with her husband, the writer-director Ken Chubb (who survives her) and administrator Martin Cook, she formed the Wakefield Tricycle Company in 1972. The name was derived from their tripartite arrangement and the pub in London’s Kings Cross where their endeavours began.

The company quickly established itself with tours to youth centres, colleges and universities, championing new writing and work for young audiences and the wider community. Barrie found herself in the vanguard of a new generation of theatremakers agitating for greater involvement with its audiences and proved to be one of its most persuasive champions.

In 1980, supported by Brent Council, she and Chubb moved the company into its new home, the 240-seat Tricycle Theatre, designed by Tim Foster and modelled on the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, Yorkshire. (The venue will re-open after a £5.5 million, two-year refurbishment in September, controversially renamed the Kiln Theatre.)

Barrie had also begun to write, producing the psychological, total theatre-accented Mind Music (co-authored with Eric Twiname) in 1976. She found her niche writing for young and family audiences, pioneering classes, workshops and shows involving and for children at the Tricycle. 1978’s The Adventures of Super Granny and the Kid (which she also directed) proved an early success.

She wrote two plays for BBC Radio 4 and several others for CBC Radio in her native Canada, to where she returned in 1985. There, she formed the Toronto-based Straight Stitching Productions in 1989, which produced an innovative body of work until 2003. She also began writing for adult audiences. The latest revival of her most regularly performed play, Queen Marie, a musical portrait of the famed Ontario actor Marie Dressler, opened in Toronto two days before her death.

With her husband, she developed television and film projects in Canada, serving as senior script editor on several.

She was president of the Playwrights Guild of Canada from 2009-11, receiving its lifetime membership award in 2015.

A keen painter, she was executive director of the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colours from 1998-2005 and editor of Watercolour News from 2007-12.

Shirley Grace Barrie was born on September 30, 1945 and died on April 15, aged 72.

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