On February 18, 1982, writer Dame Ngaio Marsh died at her home in Cashmere. She was one of the famous Queens of Crime (along with Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers) who emerged in the 1930s.
What isn’t so well known is the impact she had on the cultural life of Christchurch and New Zealand as a theatre director and nurturer of a generation of acting talents through her involvement with the Canterbury University College Drama Society and other touring productions. (Mervyn Thompson and Sam Neill were among those who acted in her productions)
She also wrote an autobiography Black Beech and Honeydew which is a snapshot of life in early C20th Christchurch for a particular class of people.
The screening of the documentary Ngaio Marsh – Crime Queen raised a satisfactory amount for the Court Theatre, and took me on a slightly confused trip down memory lane. Could it be true that I saw a production of hers? Am I really that old? It seems I am.
In 1972 Dame Ngaio came out of semi-retirement to produce Henry V at the gala opening of the James Hay Theatre at the Christchurch Town Hall. It was her last production and the Avonside Girls’ High School Seventh Form attended on a school trip.
So far so good on the map of memory lane – but unfortunately that’s where the journey ended. I can remember Henry V was spectacular, but even far more recent memories of going to the Town Hall and the University of Canterbury’s Ngaio Marsh Theatre (with its Paul Johns Pop Art portrait of Dame Ngaio) are starting to seem distant.
Our theme this month is Rediscovering Christchurch and it’s easy to rediscover Dame Ngaio. She’s still in the spotlight in Christchurch City Libraries’ images collection; black dress, hair swept back from her forehead and her silhouette giving even more emphasis to the cigarette she’s clutching. Any wonder we were mugs enough to think smoking was sophisticated.
Fans of classic crime fiction, of film and of the Court Theatre should all turn out for tonight’s fundraising screening of Ngaio Marsh – Crime Queen (Monday 26 September).
Hosted by Peter Elliott as Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn, there will be a Q & A for 20 minutes with the film makers after the showing and a full compendium of Ngaio Marsh’s 32 detective stories and a signed copy of Joanne Drayton’s biography of Ngaio Marsh will be raffled on the night.
All funds raised will go to the Court Theatre’s fundraising appeal for “The Shed”.
This event is on at The Aurora Centre (corner of Greers Road and Memorial Avenue), at 7.30. tonight. Tickets are $25.00 and will be on sale at the door.
Three books have been short-listed for the Ngaio Marsh Award, New Zealand’s first ever crime novel award. A panel of seven local and international judges has selected the shortlist from crime, mystery and thriller novels written by a New Zealand citizen and published in New Zealand in 2009. The winner will be announced on Friday night of the Christchurch Writers Festival during the Setting the Stage for Murder evening (10 September 2010).
I love visiting writers’ and artists’ lairs – they seem to create very civilised digs around themselves, even when they have been museumized. So it was a treat to climb the hill to Ngaio Marsh’s Cashmere home for a look around. I was fortunate to have a few minutes on my own before the crowds came in so I snapped off some pictures which I hope will give a flavour of the place. Hidden under the more recent additions that Ngaio Marsh made is a Samuel Hurst Seagar cottage and you can get a flavour of that style in the dining room. The Cashmere setting is very peaceful – on Saturday’s visit the loudest sound was the pock, pock of tennis balls from the courts down in the valley.
I encourage you to take the time to visit – make an appointment, pay your $10 and have a look. You can see her writing room – at once cosy and filled with light and the dining room and long room where she entertained a who’s who of the local and international theatre world. Viewing is by appointment only (call 03 337 9248), groups of 2 – 10 pay $10 per person, individual tours $15.
The house is cared for by the Ngaio Marsh Trust which really needs our support. Apart from visiting, if anyone has copies of Ngaio Marsh books lurking about that they would care to donate, the trust sells these to visitors. Just ring the number above and leave a message – someone will be able to collect them.
Last evening we all got cultural and went off to the Great Hall, and a full house, to hear Joanne Drayton talk about her latest biography, Ngaio Marsh: her life in crime. So, ladies, tell us your thoughts.
Joyce: I’d like to say first off that Joanne Drayton was resplendent in red velvet and awesome black leather studded fingerless gloves. We wondered if Elric’s choice of red scarf was deliberate – had he phoned in advance to discuss wardrobe? Jane, don’t be shy – what did you think about tonight’s performance?
Jane: Hmmm. Apart from the gloves which I became entirely distracted by, I was also constantly distracted by Elric. His booming voice, and stage presence took over the whole thing for me, and I can hardly even remember what Joanna said!
Bronwyn: I loved the slide show, which was full of gorgeous pictures, both of Ngaio herself and of her theatre days. I’m noticing, girls, that no-one has commented yet about the actual content of the Conversation …