Prolific playwright best known for her work at London’s Royal Court and the Royal Shakespeare Company
One of the most persistent and engaging voices in contemporary theatre’s prolific facility for generating scripts, Louise Page produced at least one new work per year in a career that spanned four decades.
It saw her working across a broad spectrum on stage, from London’s Royal Court and National Theatre to Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake and community-based projects, as well as contributing to television, film and radio, including a 10-year-long spell on BBC Radio 4 institution The Archers.
Born in London, she spent a nomadic childhood following her university tutor-father to various regional posts until a professorship in Sheffield settled the family. After a theatre studies degree at Birmingham University, she gained a practice-based diploma with the University of Wales at Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre and caught attention in 1977 when Lucy, a portrait of a dying 16-year-old girl, won the inaugural International Student Playwriting Competition to earn her a commission from London’s Royal Court.
The same year’s Glasshouse, an intense drama of sibling rivalry over an invalid mother, for the National Student Theatre Company and 1978’s Tissue, which helped ignite a debate about breast cancer, for the Belgrade Coventry (and seen at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London) announced Page as an issue-led, character-focused writer of note.
At the Royal Court Upstairs in 1982, Salonika revealed a poetic shift in her writing as past and present folded into each other on a Greek beach where Gwen Nelson’s elderly, widowed mother and Sheila Burrell’s daughter encounter their husband and father, killed in action during the First World War. Receiving that year’s George Devine award, it was, said The Stage, “the work of a writer of distinctive promise and sure accomplishment”.
Culled from research and the letters of a British soldier, the later conflict of the Falklands War was the verbatim subject of Falkland Sound/Voces de Malvinas at London’s Royal Court in 1983.
The year 1984 proved to be the high-point of Page’s career. At the Tricycle Theatre, Real Estate again reunited a mother and daughter (Brenda Bruce and Charlotte Cornwell) in an isolated setting to explore inter-generational hurt and the fragility of domesticity, which The Stage hailed as “extraordinarily searching and honest”.
Page’s greatest success, Golden Girls for the Royal Shakespeare Company, was a thrilling portrait of five female athletes training for the Olympic Games, which ambitiously addressed a plethora of personal and political issues associated with high-profile sports tournaments.
There was a feminist slant to her take on Beauty and the Beast for the Women’s Theatre Trust at London’s Old Vic in 1985, a curious foray into medical research ethics as a bio-chemist observes a dying goat in Goat for Paines Plough in 1986 and a clashing of professional ambition and personal desire in Diplomatic Wives at the Watford Palace in 1989.
Something of Salonika’s mood found its way into the “evocative love affair between the past and the present” in Adam Was a Gardener at the Minerva, Chichester (1991), while Hawks and Doves for Southampton’s Nuffield (1992) delved into the corrosive political and economic divide between north and south.
Working with mothers in the baby unit of Holloway Prison, 1995’s Another Nine Months for Clean Break was a powerful and poignant riposte to still prevalent Victorian attitudes in the criminal justice system.
In later years Page became an adapter of some accomplishment. For the stage, she produced adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Love from a Stranger (Mill at Sonning, 2010) and Hugh Walpole’s Rogue Herries (Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, 2013).
More recently, Green Fields Beyond was a community project she worked on in Lincoln commemorating local experiences of the First World War.
On radio, where she spent much of the 1990s contributing to The Archers – where she met and married her husband, fellow writer Christopher Hawes – she adapted Sense and Sensibility (1991), Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed (1992) and Frances Sheridan’s Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph (1999).
Screen credits included Crown Court, Bad Girls, Doctors and the 50-minute drama Broken Lives (1994) on television and the somewhat anonymous films Charlotte and Enid (1997) and To Hell Or Barbados (2007).
Louise Mary Page was born on March 7, 1955 and died on May 30, aged 65. She is survived by her husband Christopher Hawes.