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MALCOLM WOOLFSON DIES (article first published : 1999-08-5)

Malcolm Woolfson, playwright, author and former theatre director died last week in Durban. Malcolm’s contribution to the arts world in KZN was considerable. His first venture into a theatrical style came when he was a young man working in his family’s well-known firm of outfitters where he was responsible for spectacular shows of men’s fashions. He went on to produce (mainly American) plays at the Durban Jewish Club during the ‘50’s.

He directed the ground-breaking all-Zulu musical Umkumbane, collaborating with Alan Paton who wrote the book and Todd Matshikiza who wrote the score. He was a guest-director in Holland and Zimbabwe, wrote a range of popular radio scripts for the SABC, lectured in speech and drama at the Anne Freed Theatre School and ran courses for drama groups and organisations. He also reported widely on the Natal theatre scene as a theatre critic, served on the Natal Performing Arts Council (Napac) opera advisory committee and was a provincial judge for the annual Nederburg Opera Award.

For Napac, he produced the highly popular Victorian Music Box as well as the Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors and a musical revue in The Cellar titled They Played the Playhouse. He wrote two books about Napac: The Long Road and a history of the organisation’s first 30 years, as well as a coffee-table history of the Johannesburg Opera and Dramatic Society. His most recent work, published in America earlier this year, was a children’s play based on Zulu animal fables and legends.

“Those of us who worked with Malcolm will always remember his very high standards, professionalism, attention to detail in every aspect of his productions and his total commitment to whatever project it was on which he was working,” says Robert Cross, Malcolm’s close friend for nearly 40 years and Napac’s former General Director. “He wasn’t always easy to work with because he expected these same qualities from everyone else – and was unhappy with actors or collaborators who didn’t share his standards! He was a man whose wit, wide-ranging interest in all the arts and warmth made him a delightful companion. All of us who knew and worked with Malcolm over the years, will miss him greatly.”


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