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Former Stratford Herald theatre critic Sheila Bannock has died aged 91

SHEILA Bannock, the Stratford Herald’s theatre critic from 1966 to 1978, has died aged 91.

Sheila was born – Sheila Yarwood – in Hendon, north-west London, one of three children of Ruth, a former telephonist, and John Yarwood, a finance officer with the Electricity Council.

She went to Copthall County School in Mill Hill and in 1951 became a student in the then fairly new department of drama at the University of Bristol and was the first student to study English and drama as a combined degree.

Sheila Bannock.
Sheila Bannock.

In 1960, she married Graham Bannock, an economist, and they lived for a time in Paris, where he worked for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The couple had three children.

The family moved from Paris to Wootten Wawen in 1963 and then to Aston Cantlow. By 1966 Sheila was already writing for the Herald and eventually the family moved to Stratford.

The mix of journalism and theatre was always close to Sheila’s heart and she became a highly regarded theatre critic, reviewing most of the plays performed in Stratford and the regional theatres and occasionally writing for the nationals.

In 1965 in the Herald, she gave Alan Ayckbourn a rave review for his comedy Relatively Speaking, the first of his 89 plays to become a hit.

But she could also be uncompromising in her reviews and wrote in the Herald: ‘So it is with mingled feelings of excitement and exasperation that I watched Peter Brook’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which opened at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre last week.

‘The audience’s attention seems to be diverted into irrelevancies by, for example, Alan Howard’s dexterity in juggling, in the role of Oberon, with a metal disc on a wand because it seems to me that the admiration is for the fact that Alan Howard (not Oberon) is achieving an unexpected skill.’

In 1975 she gave an appreciative review in the Herald of a new play by students at South Warwickshire Further Education College (now Stratford College), starting: “Sixteen is no great age to have written, directed and acted in your first full-length play.” She ended a lengthy interview with the young Ben Elton outlining his future plans with: “We shall have to wait and see.”

She applied for a job as press officer at the RSC in Stratford in the 1970s but was rejected as it “was no job for a woman”. Some years later her daughter – Alex - applied for the post and got that job.

Sheila moved to Bristol in 1982 but maintained close links with Stratford through her grandmother who still lived in the town until her death in 2003.

In 1992 she moved to London, where she worked for the publisher Robert Hale), both as reader and as editor. In 2014 she moved to Gillingham, Dorset and continued working with Hale’s into her late 80s.

Paying tribute to her mother, Alex, her daughter, told the Herald: “At her funeral we read out a series of her reviews for the Herald. There are hundreds. She was passionate about Shakespeare and theatre generally.

“Sheila had almost magically green fingers and could encourage the most unviable of cuttings to grow and flourish.

“In old age she loved the birds that she watched on her bird feeders outside her sitting room window. She defied the rats that came to join in by mixing the bird feed with chilli powder which didn’t worry the birds but kept the rodents at bay.

“Mum would be so chuffed to get an obituary in the Herald.”

Sheila Bannock is survived by her daughters, Alex and Sarah and grandson, Finlay and by her brother Keith Yarwood and sister, Daphne. Her son, Angus, predeceased her.

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