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The beguiling Joanna Dunham never quite became a star, but none the less carved out a solid career on stage and screen which inexplicably petered out somewhat in later years.Her break came playing Juliet for Franco Zeffirelli with the Old Vic in 1962; when the production toured New York she was spotted by Marilyn Monroe, who recommended her to George Stevens for the part of Mary Magdalen in (1965).

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She was educated at Bedales in Hampshire, and then, on scholarships, studied at the Slade School of Art (where she was taught by Lucien Freud), and at Rada, where she befriended fellow student and future Beatles manager Brian Epstein.

Fresh out of drama school, she drew attention for a striking performance as Vera in Turgenev’s .

From then on she juggled the two mediums skilfully; her classical roles were often meaty because of her fluency as a verse speaker, something that as early as 1961 won her the opportunity to read Helena’s passages to Hermia from caused a headache when she became pregnant midway through.

Stevens had no choice but to use contrived camera angles in later scenes, although he rose to the challenge in good spirits, remarking that “that Mary Magdalene always was trouble”.

Her film career never came to much, but the 1970s were her busiest decade on stage and television.

At the Oxford Playhouse in 1971 she was the sensual wife in Sartre’s , a one-woman piece by the Icelandic playwright Ornolfur Arnason at the Three Horses in Hampstead in 1980, as a woman looking back with regret on the wrong decisions she made in life: “Joanna Dunham speaks it all beautifully, never overdoing the cry for understanding inherent but not articulated in her character”, and Regan in , which had not been seen for 100 years until she and her second husband, Reggie Oliver, unearthed it.

Oliver translated it and the couple staged it at Ipswich in 1995.

It was described as “an excellent find, a French kitten of a play”.

The television play (1960), set in a block of flats where three proves to be a crowd in an unexpected sense, was one of many Dunham performances for director Joan Kemp-Welch, the most significant being the now forgotten series (1967), which aimed to be “documentary fiction in the manner of Z Cars”, only about nuns not rather than police officers.

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