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DEATH OF JOHN MOSS (article first published : 2008-09-15)

John Moss, for many years the head of the Drama Department of NAPAC (now the Playhouse Company), died in Brighton, England, on Sunday evening after a stroke a fortnight ago, a few days after his 85th birthday.

John first came to South Africa in the early ‘sixties as an internationally known ice skating star, to play Prince Charming in one of Marjorie Chase’s ice-pantomimes. After a return visit a year later he decided to settle in South Africa and joined the Cape Performing Arts Board as company manager for its English drama company.

In 1965, NAPAC appointed John as its Drama Manager, and he stayed with the organization until his retirement. He brought an immediate professionalism to the Drama Department, always striving to assemble the very best production team and setting the highest possible standards in everything from the direction to the acting, from the design to the technical aspects. He was sometimes unpopular with the local theatre community for “importing” actors and directors from other provinces or even from abroad if he felt there were not locals with comparable skills.

John did not set much store by “artistic successes” - that theatrical euphemism for a box-office flop: however beautifully done, a production that did not draw an audience saddened John who tried always to ensure that the drama productions had a broad audience appeal.

For many years John was responsible for NAPAC’s annual Christmas production that was unashamedly aimed at getting as many “bums on seats” as possible – and giving audiences (especially young audiences), a great theatrical experience. In addition to family-type shows like Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz and Winnie-the-Pooh, John wrote and directed a number of hugely-successful traditional English pantomimes with all the usual panto ingredients – male “dames” and glamorous “principal boys”, slapstick and sing-alongs, audience participation and, usually, an excuse for the cast to embark on hectic chases round the perimeter of the stalls in the Alhambra!

Many of this province’s current generation of performers and technicians whose first work in the theatre was in NAPAC productions under John’s management, acknowledge how his training helped set their own standards and imbued them with the discipline and traditions of the professional theatre.

John was great to work with – you always knew exactly where you were with him – and his wicked but dry sense of humour enlivened the many meetings we sat through, especially when the Drama Theatre at The Natal Playhouse was coming on-line.

The British actress-author Jill Fenson, who came to Durban for the NAPAC premiere of a musical version of the French farce Don’t Listen Ladies for which she had written the lyrics, took over one of the leading roles on opening night after a cast member collapsed and had to withdraw because of ill health.

Jill enjoyed Durban and stayed on, soon becoming an important part of the local theatrical scene, working as a writer of radio scripts and performing on stage and radio. She later married John and a few years later their daughter, Miranda, was born in Durban.

After John retired from NAPAC he, Jill and Miranda returned to Britain and retired to Hove, close enough to London’s West End to be able to watch the changes in the theatre scene. – Robert Cross (former head of NAPAC)

Tributes to follow




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