Theatre personality Fiona Fraser-Brewer dies at 77

“She was made of real grit, true grit, that was Fiona,” actress Shirley Firth, says of her friend Fiona Fraser-Brewer, the theatre personality who died this week at the age of 77.

An independent and outspoken person throughout her life, Fraser-Brewer’s friends described her as someone who was committed to her craft and who gave everything to her acting.

A fighter to the end, Fraser-Brewer survived three bouts of bowel and breast cancer, the most recent at the age of 76. At the end she could no longer eat, and suffered a heart attack.
She died on December 23.

“I will miss her terribly,” Firth said, recalling that she met Fraser-Brewer over 50 years ago. “She fought a good fight,” Firth said, “Even after she had a mastectomy, she didn’t yield, she didn’t give way, she just went back on stage”.

“She met every challenge in her life,” Firth said.

Born in England in 1929, Fraser-Brewer moved to South Africa when she was 28. For much of the latter part of her life she lived on the edge of Hillbrow and Berea and took taxis and loved the inner city.

“You couldn’t move her out of Hillbrow,” her daughter Thandi Brewer said.

“She used to go to gym in the morning with the guys [in Hillbrow] and stand on her head,” Firth added, laughing.

Dawn Lindberg, a friend on Fraser-Brewer’s for 40 years, said she remembered her at 75 “standing on her head and doing the splits dressed in a body-hugging leotard, looking like a cross between an elf and a leprechaun”.

“She tackled everything with the greatest enthusiasm,” Firth said.

Fraser-Brewer did yoga well into her 70’s. “Because I want to die healthy,” she told the Sunday Independent in an interview earlier this year. She also insisted on working long past normal retirement age, telling the paper that her greatest fear was “no longer being able to earn my living”.

Talking about Fraser-Brewer’s commitment to her craft, her daughter Thandi said: “Just last week I took her to do a voice-over for a radio commercial … she always worked”.

Fraser-Brewer started her theatrical career in England, appearing in West End productions, radio, television and film. She made an impact playing parts such as Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker. She also had successful one-woman shows, like A Woman’s Word and Other Troubles and the most recent Growing Old Disgracefully, which looked at the politics of ageing in the new millennium South Africa.

During her career, Fraser-Brewer spent time with the Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal (Pact) as well as the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) in London, where she met and befriended Oscar winner Ian Whittaker. In a letter to Thandi, Whittaker wrote: “She was the pluckiest person I ever met.”

Fraser-Brewer worked as a vocal-coach on the films Sarafina with Whoopi Goldberg and Cry the Beloved Country with James Earl Jones. She was also a part of the Star newspaper’s team of television critics for a number of years.

Journalist Adrienne Sichel wrote: “What a great loss. I always remember Fiona as a great artist and amazing activist to the very end.”

Brewer said her mother was an incredibly strong and talented person. “She wasn’t very political, [but] she was committed to artists and people more than anything else.”

More recently, she focussed on television and film work in shows like Egoli and 102 Paradise Lane. At the age of 72, she got her BA Honours degree in English, something she was “ecstatic” about, her daughter said.

In February 2005, Fraser-Brewer was given the lifetime achiever award at the Naledi Theatre Awards. Lindberg, also a theatre personality, said the award was “an honour she so richly deserved”.

“Fiona Fraser was a wonderful, feisty, elegant, kind, cultured and talented person,” Linberg added.

“She epitomised the new age pensioner-granny.”

Fraser-Brewer was married to music journalist and entertainer Bill Brewer. She is survived by her daughter Thandi and granddaughter Cody.

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