Award-winning British playwright Pam Gems has died, aged 85.

Pam Gems. © Michael Bennett / National Portrait Gallery, London

Pam Gems. © Michael Bennett / National Portrait Gallery, London

A pioneering and passionate playwright, Pam Gems became best known for her biographical plays about strong women. Her most famous play is Piaf, written for the RSC in 1978 and recently revived by Jamie Lloyd at the Donmar Warehouse starring Elena Roger.

Born in Bransgore, Hampshire, Gems studied at Manchester University before marrying and having four children. Despite writing plays from the age of eight, she did not write her first performed plays until her Forties.

Her work includes a long association with the RSC, from Queen Christina (1977) and Piaf (1978) to Camille (1984), The Danton Affair (1986) and The Blue Angel (1991). Her early plays include Go West, Young Woman for the Women’s Company at the Roundhouse (1974), Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi (1976), and later plays Pasionaria (1985), Stanley at the National Theatre starring Antony Sher (1996), Marlene (1996) and Mrs Pat, about actor Mrs Patrick Campbell (2006).

Gems was working well into her Eighties, including making a number of changes to Piaf for Jamie Lloyd’s Donmar production, accommodating Elena Roger’s Argentinian accent in a play that she originally wrote for a Cockney-voiced Piaf.

Her continued passion and commitment to theatre was admired by all who met her or saw her work. In an interveiw in the Telegraph with Dominic Cavendish in 2006 she said: “”Olivier said that drama is an affair of the heart, or it’s nothing, and he was right. Most people spend their days doing things they’d rather not do, so when they come to the theatre they want to be surprised, preferably be made to laugh, and certainly to forget themselves.”

Iris Pamela (‘Pam’) Gems. 1925 to 2011.

LINKS

Theatre Voice: Radio interview with Pam Gems (2006)