Posted by: stelladuffy | July 22, 2013

Kate Crutchley

Our dear friend Kate Crutchley died this weekend, after many years successfully and passionately living with recurrent cancers and attendant illnesses. She did so much to contribute to the woman I am today, and though I thanked her privately, in person, I also want to do so publicly, as I do not believe Kate’s work has ever been widely enough praised or recognised.

Kate was a very successful actor (with a fine Corale Brown story, among many others) before working more as a director, and that’s how I worked with her.

She was running OvalHouse Theatre programming when I wrote and performed my first solo show there. It led to all the other solo shows I have worked on, my own and others.

She gave me my first actual-acting-job-with-a-script (ie not impro/comedy) in the UK – at a stage in my work when it was very hard to persuade Brit people that my work in NZ did count, and that yes, I had been a ‘proper’ actor for a while, just not in the UK …

That job wasn’t with Kate though, it was with her friend (and then mine) the also-brilliant Tessa Schneideman. Kate gave me to Tessa (because she thought I looked like their mutual friend Roxanne who had written the play) and it was Tessa who gave me Boal, bouffon, and physical theatre in a big big way. (There’s a Derek Jarman/my naked breasts story there, for another time …)

They were both good, generous, welcoming directors, with very different styles, and what I gained from working with the two of them (three plays with Tessa and three with Kate) was a bravery in myself as an actor – a bravery in my own ideas, my own thoughts – and also a great deal that I have tried to transfer to my own directing … Not pretending I know more than actors. Not pretending I have all the answers. Not thinking I need to be ‘in charge’. No game-playing with people’s emotions. Just how it is, working together. A sense of theatre as a visual and aural place (Tessa) and of script as a start (a good start) but not an end in itself (Kate).

It was also at the Oval, with Kate in charge, that I directed my first large-scale play. She was only ever supportive.

Kate was older than me and also lesbian, also feminist. She was political and her politics were fully in her work. But unlike many I worked with at the time, she was gentle in her politics, kind in her passion. It was not (80s/90s) an easy time to be political and, of course, it is understandable that many were, and are, angry and forceful in their passionate work for a better world. But there was also a great deal of the I’m-a-better-feminist-than-you stuff, a lot of the ‘real’ lesbians versus ‘fake’. Kate wasn’t like that. She was warm and she was kind AND she was political.

I don’t believe Kate’s work for LGBT theatre, women’s theatre, lesbian theatre has ever been acknowledged strongly enough. Today we praise venues (like OvalHouse) where arts and queer and/or race politics often come together, we are rightly appreciative of the effort it takes to programme work that isn’t especially mainstream. But Kate was doing that then, in the 80s – in so many ways a much harder climate for diversity than now. I know she knew we all appreciated and loved her for it, I wish the wider theatre and political world had done so more obviously too.

I was working with Kate when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 40s. I admired her resilience and strength in having radiotherapy first thing in the morning, so she was able to rehearse with us all day. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my 30s, I was grateful to her for that role model, when I too, had to work through illness and treatment.

When Kate and Claire had their relationship blessing last year, I admired them both for that same resilience and strength, the keeping-going, despite so many recurrences and such pain. Kate’s smile. Claire’s constant support and generosity in sharing Kate’s dwindling time with their many friends. Josh’s amazing speech about the woman who taught him to play football, and so much besides.

It was also from Kate that I learned the healing power of gardening, reinforcing a lesson that both my parents knew well – everything else might be going to hell, but the garden, the earth, will always be there, waiting for us to get stuck in. That we can make order from chaos, and then leave it to return to chaos again.

When we visited a month or so ago, Kate came downstairs to see us, very small, very frail, and not at all ready to give up. Dressed in her beautiful blue, we talked about Spain, where Kate had been going in summer for so long. Her desire to get there, in spite of it all. Kate said, lightly, not angrily, that she wasn’t at all jealous of the young people, she had had a great youth. But she was jealous of the old people, that she wasn’t going to have an old age. She said she didn’t want to leave (this life) and she didn’t want to leave Spain. She hasn’t left Spain. We would all have wished for her an old age. We need those elders.

There is a lovely interview with her here, on this great site, Unfinished Histories.

Our thoughts and love are with Claire and Josh.

Please feel free to add your own memories here, and we can share how important Kate was – and is – to us.


  1. Stella thanks for sharing this. As always your writing encapsulates a certain spirit. C x

  2. I remember Kate from my involvement at the Oval House years ago and recall her as a funny, gentle but feisty woman, able to inspire us to overcome most short-comings, and willing to let complete novices have a go. She embodied the spirit of women in theatre at that time (late 80s/early 90s) but with a friendly mien which probably belied the steel within. As I write this, I’m researching a project about the lives of literary lesbians in Paris between 1900 and the 1970s and Kate’s character would certainly not be out of place amongst those women who really believed in their (equal) right to make art, literature, life and love as they chose. I salute you Kate, and thank you for your example. And to those that knew you and love you, my deepest condolences.

  3. Such sad news, and a lovely tribute. I have very fond memories of Kate from my time at the Oval in the 80s/90s with Red Rag. She was so supportive, so driven and cheerful, a wonderful role model for us twenty-something baby dykes. She will be remembered with great affection.

  4. really sad….I enjoyed their kind hospitality in London on trips from NYC–as did my daughter Hannah + my sister Madeline….She was such a lovely soul….so sad…my thoughts are with beautiful Claire…RIP

  5. Kate was pure and simple and open inspiring, curious passionate person, with great humour and the ability to encourage, laugh and grow. My time in her orbit was amazing and all I am doing now I’m doing because she took the time to encourage and help me on the road. And she made me laugh like a drain withher crazy, wicked antics.

  6. Stella – thanks for this. There aren’t many people who I can say actively changed the course of my life, but I can definitively say that about Kate. I met her when I was still in grammar school in Richmond and I swept the floors at the Orange Tree Theatre where Kate and her partner – the wonderful designer Mary Moore – were working on a production. Meeting them, even though the word ‘lesbian’ was never spoken between us at that point, was my first sense that I was not alone, not desperately abandoned in my sexuality. So, without ever telling them what I was doing, I wrote my play ‘Any Woman Can’ with Kate in mind for the lead character, based on myself.

    The day I handed Kate the rough script, lots of odd bits of paper, cobbled together was one of the scariest of my life. I was 19. Kate called me the same evening, sort of breathless, and Mary anxiously chiming in on the other end of the line also. ‘It’s brilliant’ she said. I suppose that moment changed all three of our lives. She and Mary came out through working on ‘Any Woman Can’ and I was validated in a way that only Kate, with her compassion and her insight, could have done.

  7. these are so brilliant. thank you all. room for many more …

  8. I am Josh’s big sister….Kate was lovely,we all loved Kate,my dad & my step mum & my mum my other brother, many of us;she was just someone you couldn’t help but like. My dad is a director Tristan de Vere Cole,& he told me he really admired her work;she was a really good director,I saw her once briefly acting in an episode of Doctors( I think it was) & she was so good & convincing It took me a long time to recognize her!
    She was gentle warm kind modest easy company funny & she will be a great loss to us all. She was however made so happy by Claire & Josh;she told me how Claire & Josh cared for her valiantly & brilliantly & also how to have a family such as Claire & Josh was her dream come true & teaching Josh football was the iceing on the cake so speak!
    Stelladuffy I loved your piece! Xxxxx❤

  9. ah Jemma, thank you so much.

  10. In 1987, Kate said yes. She booked our first and second and third shows…she had faith in us right from the beginning and unlike so many others, was simply prepared to take the risk. She modelled an attitude and an approach to all of us at Foursight Theatre and we remember and we are truly thankful.

  11. I almost can’t remember when I first met Kate. But it was way back in the days when Lesbians and Gay people were first determined to be visible in their communities & in the world. The dark days when books were written about inverts and homosexuality was regarded as an illness were over for good, because people like Kate were no longer prepared to regard themselves as abnormal.
    Everything everyone has said about Kate is true she was kind supportive and proactive she was patient and got the best from everyone. She brought people together to make change.

    It does not surprise me that she was courageous in her illness as she was in her life. She and others who stepped out of the closet in the 70s leave a tremendous legacy to today’s Gay Women and Men, particularly in the theatre, which was her world. Most people today have no idea about the courage and determination of people like Kate Crutchley. She was one of the most natural of people – she was probably also one of the most attractive – we all fell secretly in love with her in those days.

    I am honoured to have known her, worked with her and been a friend at that key time in the history of the Gay and Women’s movement.
    Kate has helped to make the world (so full of disagreeable conflicts) a much better and more harmonious place. I sincerely hope the history of the Gay and Women’s movement will not remain a ‘hidden history’ for much longer and Kate’s part in it will not be forgotten.
    I am so pleased to know from reading the other comments that she had a happy life with Claire & Josh.
    I did not know Claire or Josh but I’d Like to send my condolences to them.

  12. thank you for this Barbara.

  13. Hi Stella,

    Thank you for sharing your memories of Kate. It’s been a while but we worked together with her at Oval House on the ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ sometime in the eatly 90’s?!

    I was so sad to hear the news and it’s weird because I’d been thinking about her as I’m doing some acting again (after a 20 year break being a jazz singer!) and remembered what a warm, funny, encouraging and patient director she was, particularly with me as I was very green! Later, I was lucky enough to work again with her in a production of Erasmus Montanus at Greenwich Studio Theatre playing her daughter. I got the part on her recommendation for which I will always be grateful.

  14. Imogen! lovely to hear from you. hope you are well and happy. xx

  15. […] A longer and more detailed account of her life from Stella Duffy’s blog can be found here […]

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