The actress, a staple of UK modern and classic repertory who became synonymous with the Agatha Christie heroine, died January 30 in the aftermath of a stroke suffered in October, her family said in a release to the press. In addition to Miss Marple, whom she played from 2004 through 2009, she won a 1991 BAFTA TV award for best actress for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. She was Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas in Mapp And Lucia, a TV series adapted from E.F. Benson’s 1930s comic novels.
“One of the lights of the theater has just gone out.” — Helen Mirren
Earlier, however, after completing her training in 1953 at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, she was a regular and commanding presence in productions starring the greats of the British stage. On Broadway in the early 1960s, she played Lady Teazle in Ralph Richardson’s production of Sheridan’s School For Scandal, co-starring Richardson and John Gielgud. The same season she appeared in Peter Shaffer’s double bill, The Private Ear And The Public Eye.
“Watching performances by Geraldine McEwan at The Old Vic in the early days of the National Theatre was one of the main reasons I nurtured my dream of becoming an actress,” said Helen Mirren, currently readying for her Broadway opening as Queen Elizabeth in Peter Morgan’s The Audience. “Her wit and ‘lightness of being’ on the stage was miraculous. That beautiful, distinctive voice carried all the way to the gods, where I was perched, and weaved its magic on me. For many years she, with Maggie Smith, were the altar at which I worshipped. Many years later I met Geraldine, and the icon was revealed to be kind, funny, generous, human and just totally lovely. At that moment my worship turned to love. One of the lights of the theater has just gone out.”
McEwan’s last appearance on Broadway was in the transfer of Simon McBurney’s 1998 production of Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs, playing The Old Woman opposite The Old Man of Richard Briers, a pair of vaudevillian opposites scrabbling through the end of life in an absurdist forest of chairs.
“Returning to Broadway for the first time in over 30 years,” critic Matt Wolf wrote, McEwan “has humanized her stylistic flourishes into a performance at once grand and intimate, that swoop of a voice equal parts Betty Boop, Maggie Smith and even Margaret Rutherford. Splotchy-eyed and shabbily dressed, she’s the courtliest of subjects in thrall to her own sense of (however misplaced) occasion, hair firing off in one direction even as an astonishingly limber pair of legs set off in another.”
McEwan’s film roles included Mortianna in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves in 1991 and the cruel Sister Bridget in Peter Mullan’s drama The Magdalene Sisters (2002).