Leonie Forbes: Theatre's first lady

Observer senior reporter

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

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This is the 15th in our daily series highlighting 55 Jamaicans who broke down barriers and helped put the country on the world stage. Each day, one personality will be featured, culminating Independence Day, August 6.

SHE was one of the first voices on radio when the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) began broadcasting in 1955 and it was through media, then television, stage and screen that we were introduced to Leonie Forbes, national treasure.

The Kingston-born Forbes was introduced to her chosen fields when she worked as a typist with playwright Barry Reckord. She would type his plays and, at times, accompany him to the studios of the Government Information Service (now Jamaica Information Service) to watch the recording sessions.

It was there that she got her first exposure to radio as she started to do parts in programmes produced for government broadcasts.

It was through Englishman Robin Michelin, who came to Jamaica to help set up the JBC, that Forbes was able to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in England.

He was impressed with her voice and offered to sign her up to attend the Academy. Forbes was not only accepted but she also won a tuition scholarship to the prestigious institution.

She spent six years of study and practice at the RADA where she pursued a Diploma Course in Radio, Television and Stage. She also worked on scripts for the British Broadcasting Corporation's Caribbean Service.

While at RADA she appeared in a number of dramatic productions as well as television drama series for the BBC and other television networks in the UK. A stint in Australia in the 1960s saw her ply her trade for the radio division of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Never far from the stage and screen, on her return to Jamaica in 1970 she went back to the JBC working in both radio and television. Forbes also took leading roles in several National Pantomimes and other commercial productions.

In 1978, she starred in Lennie Little-White's film, Children of Babylon.

“She is a director's dream,” states Little-White. “She hits the mark everytime. Her ability to remember lines, stay in character and recall situations is amazing, she is never off point and this is critical in film.”

Forbes has a long list of stage and screen credits including The Orchid House, Milk and Honey, A Winter's Tale, Small Island, Family Affair, Traxx, Glory to Gloriana, Club Paradise, Soul Survivor, Sea Mama, Miss Unusual, The Rope and The Cross, Old Story Time and Champagne and Sky Juice.

For her work in film and theatre over the years, she has been awarded the My Life in The Theatre medal by the Mexican Theatre Centre of the International Theatre Institute for Outstanding Theatre Personalities of Latin America and the Caribbean; Order of Distinction (Officer Class) from the government of Jamaica; Silver Musgrave Medal; Centenary Medal and a Bronze Musgrave Medal.

At age 80, Forbes is still nabbing acting awards. This year, she won the Actor Boy Award for lead role in David Tulloch's Not My Child.

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