Moiseiwitsch, Tanya (1914—)

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Moiseiwitsch, Tanya (1914—)

British stage and costume designer. Pronunciation: Moy-ZAY-e-vich. Born on December 3, 1914, in London, England; daughter of Benno Moiseiwitsch (a concert pianist) and Daisy Kennedy (a violinist); attended various private schools in England and the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London; married Felix Krish (an RAF pilot), during World War II (died); no children.

Designed first production, for The Faithful at the Westminster Theatre, London (1934); designed over 50 productions for the Abbey Theatre in Dublin (1935–39); designed for productions in London, Liverpool, and Bristol (1940–53); designed sets and costumes for productions in Britain and America and for annual festivals in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, Edinburgh, and Piccolo Teatro, Milan, among others (from 1955).


Diplome D'Honneur, Canadian Conference of the Arts; Honorary Doctor of Literature, Birmingham University (1964); named CBE (1976); Honorary Fellow, Ontario College of Art (1979).

One of Britain's foremost set and costume designers, Tanya Moiseiwitsch was born in London on December 3, 1914. The daughter of accomplished musicians—her parents were Benno Moiseiwitsch, a concert pianist, and Daisy Kennedy , an Australian violinist—she took Irish harp and piano lessons while a child. After studying the piano until she was 16, she was finally persuaded that she was not up to a career as a concert pianist, and enrolled in London's Central School of Arts and Crafts intending to pursue a career in art. During her first year there, she met Lilian Baylis , the manager of the Old Vic Theatre, and volunteered to help with costume design for the theater's production of the opera Snow Maiden. Now interested in theater design, she applied at the Old Vic as an apprentice and was accepted as a scene painting student.

Following her successful apprenticeship at the Old Vic, Moiseiwitsch became an assistant to Ruth Keating , the designer at the Westminster Theatre. Moiseiwitsch designed sets for two student productions at the Westminster, so impressing director Hugh Hunt that he invited her to go with him as designer to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. The Deuce of Jacks, the first production in what was intended to be a three-month trial

period for Moiseiwitsch, proved so successful that between 1936 and 1939 she designed for over 50 productions at the Abbey. In 1939, she moved to the Q Theatre in London, and the following year took part in her first production in the West End, with The Golden Cuckoo. Moiseiwitsch designed sets at the Oxford Playhouse from 1941 to 1944, moving that year to the Old Vic's Liverpool Playhouse company, where she designed the production of John Burrell's acclaimed version of Uncle Vanya, starring Laurence Olivier, Sybil Thorndike , and Ralph Richardson. This marked the beginning of Moiseiwitsch's long alliance with the Old Vic and director Tyrone Guthrie, the theater's administrator in London. Together, they would be responsible for some of the foremost British stage productions of the postwar period, including Cyrano de Bergerac (1946) and Peter Grimes (1947).

In the winter season of 1952–53, Moiseiwitsch designed for the Stratford Theatre Festival in Ontario, Canada, working with Guthrie and Cecil Clarke. Their efforts produced a wedge-shaped "apron" stage which projected into the middle of an amphitheater, allowing a more intimate connection between actors and audience. Theater critic Brooks Atkinson, in The New York Times, called this innovation (which is an adaptation of Elizabethan staging techniques) "the most vital instrument in the production of Shakespeare that most of us have ever seen." Moiseiwitsch designed costumes and sets for Richard III and All's Well That Ends Well that first season in Stratford, for The Taming of the Shrew, Measure for Measure, and Oedipus Rex in 1954, and for Oedipus, Julius Caesar, and The Merchant of Venice in 1955. Her minimalist designs for Oedipus, including costumes based on ancient Greek theater, stirred up some controversy, and critics were divided on the effect of the unusual production.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Moiseiwitsch continued to design for productions at the Old Vic and at numerous festivals, including the Piccolo Teatro in Milan and the Edinburgh Festival. She also designed productions in the United States, particularly at the new theater in Minneapolis that had been co-founded by and named after Tyrone Guthrie. These productions include Hamlet, The Three Sisters, and The Miser (all 1963), Saint Joan (1964), and The Cherry Orchard (1965). In addition, Moiseiwitsch designed for several American operas in the 1970s, including the 1976 world premiere of The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe at the Minnesota Opera and the 1977 production of Rigoletto at New York City's Metropolitan Opera. She was named a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1976.


Current Biography 1955. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1956.

Who's Who in the Theatre, Vol. I. 17th ed. Edited by Ian Herbert. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1981.

Ellen Dennis French , freelance writer, Murrieta, California