Actress Haydn Gwynne,66, passes away

At the age of 66, actor Haydn Gwynne passed away from cancer. Gwynne passed away at a hospital “surrounded by her beloved sons, close family, and friends,” according to a statement released by her representative on Friday. We would like to express our gratitude to the professionals and employees at the Brompton and Royal Marsden hospitals for their excellent care during the past few weeks.

Gwynne had a renowned career in theater and television. She portrayed the caustic assistant editor Alex Pates in Channel 4’s newsroom farce Drop the Dead Donkey. As the dance instructor in Billy Elliot the Musical (both in London and New York), she was nominated for an Olivier and a Tony Award. She also received three additional Olivier nominations for the musical productions of City of Angels, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (which was based on Pedro Almodóvar’s film), and The Threepenny Opera.

Jack Thorne, whose play When Winston Went to War With the Wireless starred Gwynne at the Donmar Warehouse in London this year, was one among many paying tribute to Gwynne. “Haydn was the kindest, loveliest soul and a wonderful performer,” Thorne stated. She offered what she had to everyone. She was described as “a gifted and versatile all-rounder” by author Jonathan Harvey.

Haydn Gwynne, left, with Tamsin Greig in Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at the Playhouse theatre in London in 2015.
In the 2015 production of Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Haydn Gwynne (left) and Tamsin Greig appeared at the Playhouse theater in London.Tristram Kenton/The Guardian, photoShortly before it was scheduled to open, in September 2023, Gwynne pulled out of the West End revue Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends. She had previously starred in a one-time production of the revue honoring Sondheim’s musical theater career. Producer Cameron Mackintosh stated at the time of Gwynne’s withdrawal: “Haydn has been an integral part of this very close-knit company ever since she gave an unforgettable performance of Ladies Who Lunch during the Old Friends gala premiere in May 2022.”

Margaret Thatcher in Peter Morgan’s 2013 play The Audience, which starred Helen Mirren as the Queen, the regal matriarch Lady Wishfort in the Restoration comedy The Way of the World (performed at the Donmar in 2018), and a stern judge in The Great British Bake Off Musical in 2023 were among Gwynne’s well-known roles in West End theater. Her Shakespearean performances includes Volumnia in Coriolanus for the RSC in 2017 and Queen Elizabeth in Richard III (against Kevin Spacey at London’s Old Vic in 2011).

Haydn Gwynne attending the Women's Prize for Fiction awards ceremony in 2021

Famous for portraying stately and majestic roles, Gwynne portrayed Lady Susan Hussey, the lady-in-waiting to Imelda Staunton’s Queen, in Netflix’s The Crown and played Camilla as a “soap-opera villainess” in Channel 4 comedy The Windsors. She also had recurrent appearances in Peak Practice and Merseybeat, and she played a cunning gallerist in the BBC series Sherlock.

Although Gwynne’s 1989 TV miniseries Nice Work, which was based on David Lodge’s novel, had garnered her plaudits as an English lecturer, it was Drop the Dead Donkey that cemented her reputation. She was nominated for a Bafta for best light entertainment performance in her role as Alex Pates, the sadsack editor George Dent’s deputy at the incredibly dysfunctional GlobeLink News. She portrayed the character in the hit comedy’s first two seasons before it left GlobeLink.

Gwynne, who was raised in West Sussex, participated in community theater plays and attended the University of Nottingham to study sociology. She also performed in student plays at the Edinburgh Fringe. She gave English lectures at the University of Rome after receiving her degree. She didn’t go to drama school, but in 1984 she had a big break when Alan Ayckbourn cast her in Sandy Wilson’s musical play His Monkey Wife, which was performed in Scarborough and was based on John Collier’s novel. With Jason Phipps, her partner, Gwynne had two sons.

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