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Asche, Thomas Stange Heiss Oscar (1871–1936)

from Sydney Morning Herald

Oscar Asche, by Harold Cazneaux, 1923

Oscar Asche, by Harold Cazneaux, 1923

National Library of Australia, 2383919

The death is announced of Oscar Asche, the Australian who became famous as an actor-manager, and who, by his genius for colour and decorative effect, backed by lavish expenditure, inaugurated a new era in theatrical production.

Oscar Asche was born in Geelong (Victoria) in 1872 and was educated at Melbourne Grammar School. While he was there the headmaster refused him admittance to the school dramatic club on the ground that he "would never make an actor."

His parents, however, fostered his dramatic bent, and, being of Norwegian descent, despatched him to Christiana for special preparation for the European stage on its literary side. In Christiana he had the privilege of studying under Henrik Ibsen, the genius who not only wrote great plays but who, as a producer, did more than any other to free the stage from the old cast-iron conventions.

In England, Oscar Asche began his stage career by playing 200 Shakesperean characters during eight years in Sir Frank R. Benson's company, where he met and married Lily Brayton.

Oscar Asche's fame dates from his appearance as Benedick to Ellen Terry's Beatrice, followed by a great hit in the creation of Maldonaldo in Pinero's "Iris." He began management with modern poetic drama and Shakespeare at the Adelphi in 1904, advancing to his second starring season as producer of Shakespearean plays at His Majesty's in 1907.

But Oscar Asche's fame as a Shakespearean actor and producer, great as it was, was eclipsed by the artistry and instinct for the massing of colours which he revealed in spectacular plays of the East, the first of which was "Kismet." Its gorgeous colouring, elaborate setting, and daring dressing caused a sensation.

Yet "Kismet" was produced on nothing like the gigantic scale of "Chu Chin Chow," which he wrote, and which he first produced at His Majesty's Theatre on August 31, 1916.

As welcome in Sydney as in London, Oscar Asche's tours of Australia were memorable, for he brought to his native country several of the stage successes with which he had risen to fame overseas.

His huge figure dominated the stage world, and not only his countrymen, but also thousands of people throughout the world will learn with sorrow that the final curtain has been rung down on his brilliant career.

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'Asche, Thomas Stange Heiss Oscar (1871–1936)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/asche-thomas-stange-heiss-oscar-5063/text35124, accessed 19 October 2019.

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