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Our opening production in August 2014, The First Actress, served as a kind of touchstone for our theatrical vision.  Featured over a century ago in 1911 as part of the Pioneer Players' inaugural London season, the work realised women's links to their past through the resurrection of historical female figures, namely actresses from British theatre history.

The First Actress

by Christopher St. John

August 2014

London & Kent

More than a century since The First Actress debuted on the London stage, this innovative play still raises questions about the role of women in today's society. The First Actress was initially directed by Edith Craig (1869-1947), daughter of revered actress Ellen Terry (1847-1928), as part of the Pioneer Players' inaugural London season in 1911. This forward-looking work, written by Christopher St. John (Christabel Marshall, 1871-1960), compounded the argument for women's suffrage with the history of women on the stage. Set on the stage of Drury Lane in 1661, the play opens at the curtain call of a production of Othello with Margaret Hughes, possibly the first woman to play Desdemona following Charles II’s edict allowing women to play all female roles instead of boys (standard practice in England prior to the Restoration). Hughes, feeling defeated by her performance, falls fitfully asleep backstage, and the actresses of her future, including Nell Gwyn (1650 - 1687) played by Ellen Terry in the original 1911 production, counter her self-defeat with examples of their own successes.


The forty-minute play was complemented by a post-show discussion with the company and audience entitled “Actresses of Today”.


The First Actress was a collaboration between the London-based Palindrome Productions and the Department of Theatre at The Ohio State University.


Penny Farfan (University of Calgary) moderated the London performance discussion and playwright April De Angelis joined the discussion as a guest speaker. 

The First Actress

The First Actress

Melonie Mazibuko (left) as Margaret Hughes and Maroussia Richardson (right) as Sarah Siddons

The First Actress

The First Actress

From left to right: Peter Cutts as Griffin, Melonie Mazibuko as Margaret Hughes, Sifiso Mazibuko as Charles Sedley and Michael Carozza as Lord Hatton

The First Actress

The First Actress

The last scene in The First Actress performed here in Smallhythe Place, Kent

The First Actress

The First Actress

Annie McAlpine (left) as Mrs. Barry and Sue Mapp (right) as Mrs. Bracegirdle

The First Actress

The First Actress

Melissa Lee (left) as Peg Woffingdon and Manuela Chastelain (right) as Kitty Clive

The First Actress

The First Actress

Naomi Paxton (left) as Actress of To-Day and Melonie Mazibuko (right) as Margaret Hughes

The First Actress

The First Actress

Annie McAlpine (left) as Mrs. Barry and Sue Mapp (right) as Mrs. Bracegirdle

Cast & Creatives

Mrs. Margaret Hughes                  


Sir Charles Sedley                           

Lord Hatton                                     

Mrs. Nell Gwyn                           

Mrs. Barry                                           

Mrs. Bracegirdle                               

Mrs. Anne Oldfield                     

Mrs. Peg Woffington                 

Mrs. Kitty Clive                                  

Mrs. Sarah Siddons                        

Mrs. Fanny Abingdon                     

Mrs. Dorothy Jordan                      

Madame Vestris                            

Actress of To-Day                             





Assistant Director                                          

Costume Designer                          



Melonie Mazibuko (OSU)

Peter Cutts  (UK)

Sifiso Mazibuko  (OSU)

Michael Carozza  (OSU)

Ruby Richardson  (UK)

Annie McAlpine  (OSU)

Sue Mapp  (UK)

Roxy Knepp  (OSU)

Melissa Lee (OSU)

Manuela Chastelain (UK)

Maroussia Richardson (UK)

Erica Beimesche (OSU)

Jirye Lee (OSU)

Jane Elliott (OSU)

Naomi Paxton (UK)



Lesley Ferris (OSU)

Phoebe Ferris-Rotman (UK)

Melissa Lee (OSU)

Kristine Kearney (OSU)

Erica Beimesche (OSU)


This production of The First Actress was first staged as part of "The First Actresses--1660's-1930's: A Symposium" at The Ohio State University on May 23-24, 2014.  The remount in London and Smallhythe Place took place with half of the original cast and half new company members from the UK.


This production was supported by an Arts and Humanities Research Grant from The Ohio State University.


Photos by Amie and Phoebe Ferris-Rotman

© 2014 by Palindrome Productions - A Transatlantic Theatre Company.


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