SNAPSHOT of English actress & playwright Eva Elwes (1876–1950).

Eva Elwes was born on 1 February 1876 in Somerset. A prolific playwright, she wrote over 50 plays with her first a musical drama His Sister’s Honour in 1907, her last being Rudge, Martin & Baker in 1938.

She married comedian Henry Gilpin in 1898, the couple were cast together in several stage productions but unfortunately her husband died young. Eva went on to become a successful touring actress performing in plays and variety shows around the North.

By 1911 she was living in Walsall, West Midlands with actor and scenic artist Llewellyn Eykyn. The couple lived in the market town for ten year as she regularly performed her own plays which were staged by William Glaze’s touring theatre company.

Applications were made to official Play Examiners to license Eva’s plays. They would check if any political, religious and moral issues went over the line, if the Examiners showed any concerns the famous ‘blue pencil’ was in force to amend or cut scenes.

In a report about one of Eva’s plays the Examiner commented…..‘The plot of this melodrama is disgusting. It involves incest and rape, its chief scenes are in a brothel and two of the characters are the keeper of the brothel and her assistant. Its appeal is simply morbid and disgusting sensationalism’.

Although primarily seen in the Midlands and Northern England, her plays were performed in Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford, Manchester, and Newcastle, as well as in smaller towns – Eastleigh, Lowestoft, Falkirk and Ushaw Moor to name a few.

In 1921 the couple moved to South Shields in the North East where Glaze took on the lease of the town’s Alexandra Theatre. Eykyn became the theatre’s stage manager and artist, and Elwes performed in the Alexandra Players. 

Eva wrote two plays on local Tyneside characters in Dolly Peel and Fifty Fafty. Dolly Peel (1782-1857), was a South Shields fishwife and smuggler and the play premiered in 1923 with Will Glaze and Elwes in the cast, the scenery was designed and painted by Ernest Eykyn. Also that year Fifty Fafty was staged by the Alexandra Players, the play was about an old North Shields sailor.

After marrying in 1925, Eva and Llewyllen continued to perform in her plays and in 1930, Elwes began co-managing the Alexandra Theatre with Ethel Hird.

Eva wrote mainly melodramas with several plays having wartime themes, such as Joy – Sister of Mercy and Billy’s Mother. While Heaven at the Helm featured German spies and a U boat.

In 1925, Edith Cavell, Nurse and Martyr, a story of the British nurse who was shot by the Germans in 1915 after being suspected of spying, was submitted to Lord Chamberlain for a licence. Cavell’s sisters were consulted but didn’t feel the play was accurate.

In 1927 they resubmitted its application, initially it was refused, but when Elwes changed the title to The Price She Paid and changed names of characters a licence was granted. 

But in 1940 during the Second World War the German Luftwaffe targeted the docks of South Shields, and sadly the town centre theatre was forced to close due to the blackouts.

This forced Eva and Llewyllen to retire and sadly on 16 June 1950 she died in Cleckheaton, south of Bradford, West Yorkshire. Her husband died in 1956.

Gary Alikivi  June 2021

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