by R.F. Bourne

Although she was born in Leicester, Joyce Wright was brought up in Glasgow, where she was educated at Bearsden Academy, and received musical training from the age of eight. When she and her family returned to the Midlands she won several First Prizes at Midlands' Musical Festivals and sang in various choirs under the direction of Sir Malcolm Sargent and Mr. Ernest Nash. She had a great deal of experience on the amateur stage, including a period with the Glasgow Players, and was also a professional pianist in a dance orchestra.

In 1947 she was persuaded to audition for the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and was immediately engaged as a chorister. She joined the company in June, and by September was already a small-part player, commencing with Leila in "Iolanthe" and Peep-Bo in "The Mikado", while she occasionally deputised as Edith in "The Pirates of Penzance". A year later she had six parts -Bridesmaid in "Trial by Jury", Lady Saphir, Leila, Peep-Bo, Ruth ("Ruddigore") and Giulia ("The Gondoliers"). Kate ("The Pirates of Penzance") was added in 1949, and these seven roles were sustained until September 1951.

At this point, following a general rearrangement due to the departure for an American company of Martyn Green, Ella Halman, and Radley Flynn, and more particularly to the illness of Joan Gillingham, who never returned, Joyce became the soubrette playing no fewer than eight roles - Hebe, Edith, Lady Angela, lolanthe, Pitti-Sing, Mad Margaret, Phoebe, and Tessa and gained great popularity for her performances in these roles. Indeed, her portrayal of Hebe in "Pinafore" so captivated the Royal Navy that a signed photograph of her in that part was hanging in the Wardroom of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Hebe which was commissioned at Leith in 1961.

She was a true successor to such great artists as Jessie Bond, Nellie Briercliffe, Eileen Sharp, and Marjorie Eyre. These were the days when the Company had one specialist soubrette, who worked very hard indeed. in fact, in length of reign as a soubrette Marjorie Eyre holds the palm. But as against this the repertoire was much reduced between 1939 and 1946 Jessie Bond and Joyce Wright held sway for about an equal length of time, but Jessie only gradually accumulated her parts as the operas were written.

For some reason, even when "Princess !da" was restored to the repertoire in 1954 Joyce never played Melissa, although she probably could have done so easily. In 1957 Beryl Dixon, who played it, relieved Joyce of Lady Angela; but in 1960 she resumed the role when Beryl left the Company.

For fifteen years Joyce gave splendid service to the Company, and for eleven of those years she was a principal - the regular soubrette. During this time she compared most favourably with the best of her kind, and no one has surpassed her for charm and daintiness, while she had plenty of attack when necessary. She was a superb Mad Margaret in "Ruddigore" - especially with Fisher Morgan as partner - for above all she was an actress of high quality. Her sense of humour was very evident as Tessa, and she and Muriel Harding made an ideal pair. She was also a brilliant Phoebe, with just the right sense of fun and tender pathos. It would be hard to find a better trio in "A man who would woo a fair maid" than Leonard Osborn, Muriel Harding, and Joyce Wright.

Her many friends and admirers were all extremely sorry when it was decided that Joyce Wright would leave the Company at the end of the tour in July 1961. After leaving the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company she appeared in "The Yeomen of the Guard" at the Tower of London during the City of London Festival and did valuable work in producing for amateur companies up and down the country.

Like all the soubrettes with the exception of Nellie Briercliffe, her recordings do not do her justice, for the simple reason that they are so few. However, for Decca she has recorded Tessa in "The Gondoliers", with dialogue; and Hebe, Peep-Bo, Kate ("The Pirates of Penzance"), and Giulia ("The Gondoliers"). But, although they are not recorded, her performances as Mad Margaret and Phoebe will long be remembered by those fortunate enough to see them

G & S Recordings

Artist IndexMain Index