THORNDIKE, Dame Sybil (1882-1976)
Plaque erected in 1998 by English Heritage at 6 Carlyle Square, Chelsea, London, SW3 6EX, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Theatre and Film
DAME SYBIL THORNDIKE 1882-1976 Actress lived here 1921-1932
The actress Dame Sybil Thorndike was one of the outstanding figures in British theatre in the first half of the 20th century. She is best remembered as a Shakespearean tragic actress and as Saint Joan, a part written for her by George Bernard Shaw.
Thorndike’s professional debut of 1904 in a production by Ben Greet marked the beginning of a stage career that was to span six decades. She toured America with Greet for two years and by 1907 had played 112 parts. It was good training for her time at the Old Vic under Lilian Baylis, who reacted unhappily when Thorndike turned up late for rehearsal during a First World War air raid. ‘What’s an air raid when my curtain’s up!’ Baylis said.
In 1908 Thorndike married the actor and director Lewis Casson (1875–1969) and worked with George Bernard Shaw for the first time. Following four years at the Old Vic, she performed in several Greek tragedies and Grand Guignol melodramas before Shaw wrote the part of Saint Joan for her in 1923.
NUMBER 6 CARLYLE SQUARE
Thorndike and Casson’s period at 6 Carlyle Square in Chelsea encompassed some of their greatest achievements. While living here from 1921 to 1932, the celebrated thespian couple managed the New Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, and in 1931 Sybil was appointed DBE.
In a specially extended drawing room on the first floor of number 6, Thorndike rehearsed her many parts, most notably St Joan, which she performed regularly from 1924 – when it opened at the New Theatre – until 1941.