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Or She to Hecuba... Vandamm's Greek Plays


Thorndike's 1919 production of The Trojan WomenThorndike's 1919 production of The Trojan WomenDuring the War, Florence Vandamm had not lost her skill at showing character and movement. Her career was, in many ways, redefined by the portraits commissioned by Suffragist actress Sybil Thorndike in 1919. She photographed the cast of the 1919-1920 Holborn Empire (Theater) season of classical Greek and modern plays presented by Sybil Thorndike and Lewis Casson.

The images were used for press reproduction and in the season program. Thorndike chose to present the Gilbert Murray translations of The Trojan Women and Medea, which like her, were both feminist and pacifist. See the online exhibit, Mirrors to the Past for more on the political impact of these translations. Although Vandamm had provided action portraits of musicians and dancers for their recital flyers for a decade, these seem to be her first examples of the genre for which she became famous – character portraits in motion. These advance photographs of actors in costume, performing their scripted and directed roles, became the mainstay of the London and New York studios' income and importance.

The images of Thorndike as "Hecuba" and "Medea" and of Irene Mawer as the Chorus Leader (in Medea) were made in advance of the production. They were reprinted in the house programs and in the popular illustrated magazine, The Sketch (February 12 and March 17, 1920 respectively). They are fully costumed and represent (or reproduce) stage action. For Medea, Mawer, who, with fellow cast member Ruby Ginner, was a pioneer of Greek, expressionist dance in England, was photographed stretched out on the floor. The pieta images of Thorndike as "Hecuba" are equally striking in their use of the emotionally fraught poses that were associated with those plays.

These productions were revived at least twice in England and highly publicized in British and American theater magazines, still using Vandamm's photographs. The seated Medea image, captioned as "A camera study by Florence Vandamm," was reprinted in an article on Thorndike in The Graphic (December 2, 1922). The images also appear in programs in 1925 and 1926 for productions of The Trojan Women with expressionist dances by Ginner, Mawer and their company. [Ginner and Mawer Papers, University Library, University of Surrey] The Hecuba portrait was still used to promote Thorndike's 1929 revival of the plays.


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