Ashley Dukes by Elliott & Fry, 1949.
National Portrait Gallery. Licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0

Ashley Dukes


Ashley Dukes (1885–1959), theatre manager, playwright, critic, translator, adapter, author. Educated in Manchester and Munich, Dukes started out as theatre critic for New Age, Vanity Fair, and other journals; he was co-editor and contributor to Theatre Arts Monthly, 1926–42; and from 1941 he served on the first panel of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (later the Arts Council). In 1933, with a royalty of £10,000 from his play The Man with a Load of Mischief (1924), he established – with his wife Marie Rambert, dancer, teacher, and founder of the Ballet Rambert (she studied with Nijinksy and Karsavina, joined Diaghileff’s ballet corps, and trained Frederick Ashton and other great figures) – the tiny Mercury Theatre in Notting Hill, London, which (with support from W. B. Yeats and TSE) became in 1933 a poet’s theatre.

Murder in the Cathedral, the first hit – the production ran for 255 performances, and transferred to the West End – was followed by works by Auden and Isherwood (including The Dog Beneath the Skin, 1935), Ronald Duncan, Anne Ridler, and Norman Nicolson. (The Mercury Theatre features in the movie The Red Shoes, 1948.) See Dukes, The Scene is Changed (autobiography, 1942).

TSE, in The Times, 7 May 1959: ‘I should like to add a note to your excellent obituary notice of Mr Ashley Dukes. It was Mr Dukes who, after seeing a performance of Murder in the Cathedral at the Canterbury Festival for which it was written, saw that the play had further possibilities, and brought the whole production to London. Owing to his enterprise a play designed for a special occasion and for a very brief run, came to the notice of the general public.’