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Marlowe, Linda (1940-)


Main image of Marlowe, Linda (1940-)

With nearly forty years of steady acting work and positive reviews, it's surprising that Linda Marlowe is not more of a household name. It is perhaps her desire to work in different fields - theatre, cinema and television - plus different genres - exploitation, experimental and more traditional narratives - that accounts for both her ability to obtain interesting work and to remain more unfamiliar than perhaps she should.

Born to British actor parents temporarily located in Australia, Marlowe realised at a young age that she wanted to be a performer and attended ballet school with some enthusiasm. Persuading her parents to return to the UK, she finished at the Central School of Drama at the age of 17 and cut her teeth in the high-pressure environments of weekly rep (new plays and new lines every seven days) at Worthing's Connaught Theatre and live television, working on series Emergency - Ward 10 (ITV, 1957-67) and Probation Officer (BBC, 1959-62) amongst others.

She made her cinematic debut in 1963 in Gerry O'Hara's That Kind of Girl, a tale about venereal disease and the postwar generation divide. Marlowe had already worked with the director on a television production and gave a convincingly understated performance as the well brought-up but independent Janet. Having taken small or supporting roles in a variety of films through the 1960s, including the Julie Andrews vehicle, The Americanization of Emily (US, 1964), plus numerous television parts, the next decade brought considerable variety.

Kenneth Tynan's controversial stage play, Oh! Calcutta! (1970), was significant in part for including nudity on stage - a first. Marlowe's appearance in the play relaxed her attitude towards nudity and subsequently she tolerated nude scenes in several productions. The modest but distinctly challenging stage play Dynamo (1971) used the confrontational setting of a strip-club to examine role playing and voyeurism. With its wholesale removal of dialogue and vastly extended camera shots - the longest at 18 minutes - the film adaptation Dyn Amo (1972), made by artist and experimental auteur Stephen Dwoskin, was arguably more challenging still. Again, Marlowe played the lead. In the same period, she also worked on more lighthearted films, including the British sex comedy Penelope "Pulls It Off" (1975) (also staring Ingmar Bergman's daughter, Anna) and a hard-boiled kung-fu action movie, Big Zapper (1973).

Zapper director Lindsay Shonteff had already worked with Marlowe on his 1969 feature Night After Night After Night, and created the part of Harriet Zapper (or 'Dirty Harriet'), the trigger-happy, sexy private investigator, specifically with her in mind. Although more effort had gone into the action sequences and her droll narration than elsewhere, the film was very popular in Japan and the determined Shonteff made a sequel, Zapper's Blade of Vengeance (aka The Swordsman, 1974).

Meanwhile, Marlowe began a working relationship with Steven Berkoff, starting with his adaptation of Kafka's The Trial at the Roundhouse in 1973. In 1979 she played Gertrude to his Hamlet in his minimal physical theatre adaptation, and followed this with Berkoff's Decadence in 1981. They worked on many productions and she developed a reputation for strong, consistent and rewarding physical performances. After nearly 25 years of working together on several plays and touring internationally, Marlowe toured the world with a solo show drawing on many of the parts she played with him: Berkoff's Women.

It was during Berkoff's production of The Trial that Marlowe met Teresa D'Abreu, Jude Alderson and Jackie Tayler, and her career took a further twist. The group formed The Sadista Sisters, a rock band that signed to Atlantic, released an eponymously-titled album in 1976 and toured internationally. Their glam cabaret-style act incorporated performance elements that explored and transgressed sexual stereotypes - Marlowe played a half-man, half-woman, for example. The group, which for a time included a young Dave Stewart (later of The Eurythmics), was torn by internal disputes between a more confrontational focus on sexual politics a more populist entertainment approach, and the Sisters finally split in 1979.

Linda Marlowe continues to work regularly, playing alongside Albert Finney in the pagan-themed The Green Man (BBC, 1990) and appearing in Lynda La Plante's She's Out (ITV, 1995) as well as Family (ITV, 2003) and Jekyll (BBC, tx. 16/6/2007). She has continued to work with dynamic directors, including Dusan Makavejev (Manifesto, 1988), and Terence Davies (The House of Mirth, 2000). With a maverick streak of her own, in 2009 she undertook another touring solo show, The World's Wife, an adaptation of poems by the current poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. One of the many positive reviews might have summed up her entire career. "Marlowe reigns supreme, like a mythical shape-shifter, she flits from one swift portrayal to another."

Will Fowler

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