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Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Well-known Pietermaritzburg thespian, Margaret Hichens, died in Howick this week after a short illness. (Tribute by Murray McGibbon)

Margaret Hichens was born in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire on December 12, 1938, and emigrated to the then Rhodesia aboard the Carnarvon Castle on its last voyage as a troop ship before being re-commissioned as a passenger liner. Upon her arrival in Cape Town, her family undertook a three night train journey, arriving in Salisbury on her tenth birthday.

She attended Bishopslea Anglican Junior School, and later Girls’ High School in Salisbury. After leaving school, she worked for the United Kingdom Trade Commissioner. She married George Hichens (former Director of Transport for the Pietermaritzburg Municipality) in 1959. In 1970 the couple emigrated to South Africa and lived in Vereeniging and Tzaneen, before relocating to Pietermaritzburg in 1977.

In Vereeniging, she became an active member of the Stewarts and Lloyd’s Amateur Dramatic Society (SALADS) and appeared in numerous productions there, including Wait Until Dark, King’s Rhapsody, Blithe Spirit, Towards Zero, On Monday Next, Charley’s Aunt and As Long as They’re Happy.

After settling in Pietermaritzburg, she became a regular performer in productions for the Natal Society Drama Group at the Cygnet Theatre. Roles there included The Aspern Papers, Big Bad Mouse, A Christmas Carol, Breath of Spring and Go Bang Your Tambourine.

I met Margaret in 1977 when she auditioned for a role in my production of Blithe Spirit at the Cygnet Theatre. Despite not being cast in the show, we became firm fiends and enjoyed a very close, 36 year friendship. She appeared in Murder Among Friends at the Cygnet and Equus at the Hexagon, both for Presto Theatre Productions. She was a founder member of The Presto Theatre Club and remained its secretary until the organization disbanded in the mid 1980’s. She and her husband threw legendary cast parties, which decades later are still remembered with great affection. For many years, she was NAPAC’s Pietermaritzburg representative and accompanied many coach tours to the Natal Playhouse.

She and her husband George were devoted Christians and regular attendees of the Cathedral of the Holy Nativity in Pietermaritzburg. After George’s untimely death, she married her former brother in law, Rev. Anthony Hichens from the United Kingdom and settled in Hilton before retiring to Howick a few years ago.

Margaret was a delightfully enthusiastic, exuberant personality with a huge heart. She worked tirelessly for the AIDS Committee established at the Cathedral in Pietermaritzburg, while maintaining an active interest in her grandchildren, water colour painting and theatrical pursuits. In 1988 she directed Bar and Ger for the Loft Theatre Company’s retrospective on South African Drama, and in 1993 accepted an invitation to appear as Dora Strang in my production of Equus for NAPAC, now The Playhouse Company.

She is survived by her husband Anthony, son David, daughter Julia and several grandchildren. – Murray McGibbon

(Murray McGibbon is Professor of Theatre and Drama, Indiana University, USA and former Director of Drama for NAPAC and The Playhouse Company.)