Shelagh Holliday was born and educated in South Africa. However, she trained as an actress at RADA in London, England, for three years before returning to work in her home country. Shelagh was a hugely versatile actress who has worked in everything from musicals and revues to comedy, farce and drama. In her autumn years she was recognised as one of the great ladies of South African theatre and radio.

A glittering stage career has brought her three Best Actress Awards and twenty-two nominations. Among these nominations for Best Actress was a performance in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night in which she played the mother. Further nomination success followed in a successful London staging of South African playwright Athol Fugard's A Lesson From the Aloes at the National Theatre, where she played Gladys - a role she had originated earlier in South Africa at the Baxter Theatre, Cape Town. The London cast contained such luminaries as Joan Plowright, Glenda Jackson and Frances de la Tour. For this performance she was nominated Best Actress by the Society of West End Theatre Awards as well as by The Laurence Olivier Awards for 1980. Later she won the South African REPS Best Actress award for the same part. Further Best Actress awards were won for her work in The Secretary Bird (awarded by the Gallery Club) and Separate Tables (awarded by the Critics' Circle). Other memorable performances were as Madame Acati with Erica Rogers and Michael McCabe in Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit and as Gertrude in a television production of Hamlet

Shelagh Holliday's film work includes the Boer War film Torn Allegiance (1984), Oh Brother..! (1974), Golden Rendezvous (1977) and The Winner (1973) with Tony Jay and Clive Scott.

Shelagh passed away on 28th May 2010 at the age of 79. Her colleague Murray McGibbon, who cast her as the Mother Superior in his 1996 production in Durban of Agnes of God paid this tribute to her talents and down-to-earth nature:

"Like most truly great performing artists, Shelagh was accessible, humble and inordinately human... Whenever you were with her, she made you feel as if you were the most important person on the planet. For a while the world and its problems dissipated. Shelagh was there. With you. She was a director's dream in that she took what I gave her and brought back to the rehearsal room something beyond anything I was ever capable of inculcating or suggesting. She was hugely inventive and creative - a very 'giving' actress... She had a penetrating sense of humour, and a style and grace both on and off stage that will never be forgotten. She was in short a 'class act'. I doubt that the South African stage will ever be graced by such an intelligent, poised, sophisticated actress in my lifetime."

by Beverly Charpentier with Alan Hayes


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