Kate Frye’s Diary: The Lead-Up To War: 2 July 1914

On 7 August 2014 ITV will publish an e-book, Kate Parry Frye: The Long Life of an Edwardian Actress and Suffragette.  Based on her prodigious diary, this is my account of Kate Frye’s life and is a tie-in with the forthcoming ITV series ‘The Great War: The People’s Story’. For details of the TV series and its accompanying books see here.

KateAs a lead-up to publication I thought I’d share with you some entries from Kate’s diary from the month before the outbreak of war. She was at this time living in Claverton Street in Pimlico and working in the Knightsbridge headquarters of the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. It was now nine years since she had become engaged to (minor) actor John Collins.

Thursday July 2nd 1914 

To office. Attended the Committee. To lunch at Harrods with Mrs Hartley, Alexandra [Wright] and Gladys [Wright] and Miss Bessie Hatton. Work at the office all afternoon. John arrived for me at 5.30pm. I left with him and we came back in a bus to Claverton Street.

I tidied myself and then by bus to Tottenham Court Road where we had a mysterious fish dinner. We liked the first half as we were extremely hungry and then it palled.

Then we strolled to the Scala Theatre and John got 2 dress circle seats for ‘La Dame aux Camelias’. Lydia Yavorska. Parts of it were a scream as all her things are, but she was very lovely in parts – and especially just at the end – she did look so dead. Some of the characters were vilely played. Ambrose Flower – he is rather winning – just like an Elenor Glynn [ sic] man – but just a prop for the dear Princess to fall up against – or on to. She looked a picture – but some of her frocks were hideous. Back by bus.’

The Scala Theatre was just behind Tottenham Road, on the corner of Charlotte and Tottenham streets. The theatre was only ten years old in 1914, built to the architect Frank Verity’s design in 1904 on the site of a series of older theatres. .

Kate doesn’t put the design of this production of ‘La Dame Aux Camelias’ in an artistic pigeon hole – but in the 15 July 1914 issue of  ‘Tatler’ it is described as ‘Futurist’. The article is titled ‘”Infernal Decorations or What Stripes and Squares a Love of Futurism is Leading Us.”‘ Perhaps it was the ‘stripes and squares’ that made some of the dresses appear ‘hideous’ in Kate’s eyes.

Lydia Yavorska

Kate refers to Lydia Yavorska (b. 1869) as ‘the dear Princess’ because the Russian-born actress had acquired by marriage the title Princess Bariatintsky.  Of her performance as Marguerite in this production ‘The Times’ critic wrote ‘she is not the actress to spare herself in the forcible delineation of the part’s emotion. Indeed her third act gave the opportunity for more tears and cries than we have ever heard or seen in a single act before.’ Kate had seen her playing Nora in ‘The Doll’s House’ on 30 March 1911 when she had described her as ‘a pretty creature and – in spite of her very broken English, excellent and so fascinating.’

‘La Dame Aux Camelias’ ran at the Scala from 22 June to 4 July 1914.


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