Obituary: Vera Clare, actress who just kept going

2011-07-11 00:00

VERA Clare, born in 1928, was better known as Vera Goodenough in Pietermaritzburg's theatrical circles.

She died on Saturday in a Durban hospice after a recent stroke. She leaves a son and daughter and one grandchild.

Clare came to South Africa from Britain where she was a classically trained actress who’d worked in repertory theatre as well as performing Shakespearean sonnets to the Queen Mother, Elizabeth, at a special tea. She also played all of Chekhov’s heroines.

In Pietermaritzburg Clare’s love of theatre found expression in numerous productions at the Cygnet theatre where a thriving group put on regular amateur productions.

In an interview with Cue newspaper during the production of A Savage from the Colonies at a recent Grahamstown National Arts Festival, Clare, as the oldest performer at the festival that year, said that she loved acting as she was “young for my age and that life began at 70”.

“I’ve retired many times, but I’ll keep going as long as I’m given juicy roles to play,” Clare explained to Cue.

“All roles are difficult. Nothing is easy. You have to give your whole soul to the part whether it is comedy or drama.

“My age is not a barrier to me giving my best. I’m not an old person. I’m an actress.”

Many juicy roles came her way. Multi-award winning designer and director Greg King says on ArtSMart that, “Vera Clare was a grand lady of the theatre. When Vera and I were cast as Lady Bracknell and Jack, respectively, in Peter Mitchell’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest, I was in awe of her instinct as an actress. Her discipline in the rehearsal room and on stage, and her love for and great respect of all things theatrical [was exceptional].

“I was flattered when she agreed to come to Durban to reprise this role in KickstArt’s production, during which she wowed Durban audiences for the first of several times.”

Clare won an award for King’s production, which was the first of many awards she received for roles on Durban stages.

Director Murray McGibbon remembers meeting Vera Clare in the 1970s. Quoted on ArtSMart, he says, “Vera Goodenough (as she was known then) invited me to work with her in a production of The Entertaining English.

“She played a wonderful Hesther Salomon in my 1984 production of Equus in Pietermaritzburg. She was a true professional.”

Clare went on acting right until the end, playing small roles in plays and films and even having a tiny role in the film Spud.

In the Cue article Clare admitted that her life had been tragic and sometimes lonely. Her biggest sadness was the loss of a son.

Personally, I’ll remember Vera Clare as someone with an indomitable spirit, who outshone my young actors during the festival in Grahamstown all those years ago, by putting up more posters than both of them combined, and who sat with me in quiet prayer at the Grahamstown cathedral when both of us had attacks of the jitters.

She always told me my future would be bright. I’m so pleased she lived long enough to come to the premiere of the film White Lion last year.

She was so proud of me living up to her expectations. She more than lived up to mine.

You will be sorely missed, Vera.

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