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Susanne Notman (1946-2022): ‘spirit of theatre at its best’

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Susanne Notman on the stage in 2016 (File photograph)

A writer and actor who championed film and theatre in Bermuda was remembered for her sparkling style and “a voice made for the stage”.

Susanne Notman, a theatre devotee who liked to call top performances “champagne bubbles onstage”, became a driving force in the Bermuda International Film Festival, volunteered for the Bermuda Festival and was a powerhouse at the Bermuda Musical and Dramatic Society.

At a celebration of her life on Friday at St Paul’s Church in Paget, her oldest son, Hugh, said “larger than life” stood out in the tributes to her.

“She lived how she wanted to and had an exuberant energy,” he said.

“When she walked into a room, you knew she was there.”

Born Susanne Pride in Montreal, Canada, Ms Notman’s acting debut came at age 15 when she played Ismene in Antigone by Sophocles.

She studied drama at Montreal’s Sir George Williams University, now Concordia University.

In 1969, working in a Montreal bar, she met a Bermudian, David Notman.

According to family lore, he offered to show her the correct way to hold the drinks tray.

It ended up getting dropped on the floor.

The couple married in 1971, and Ms Notman lived the rest of her life in Bermuda.

Stephen, her younger son, told The Royal Gazette: “She was a flamboyant character, a fountain of creativity with enormous generosity.

“She had an immense loyalty to friends — I call it the spirit of theatre at its best.

“You had to earn her trust, earn her love, but once you had it she was fiercely loyal.”

Susanne Notman in an early stage role (Photograph supplied)

Tina Stevenson, publisher and editor of The Bermudian, said Ms Notman wrote for the magazine in the era of her late husband Kevin.

Mr Stevenson, who died in 1999, encouraged her creativity.

Ms Stevenson added: “She always credited him for encouraging her to write and giving her not only an outlet but also the impetus to keep writing.”

Ms Notman leaves behind an award-winning screenplay, inspiration for which came from her research on the author Jane Austen for an article that appeared in the magazine’s August 1999 edition.

Intrigued by the writer’s brother, Royal Navy officer Charles Austen, Ms Notman began writing Our Own Particular Little Brother.

It won a Gold Remi award at the WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival in 2018.

Stephen Notman called the labour of love “her personal Lord of the Rings — it took her years”.

“The challenge was bringing it together into something that could make a film. There was also interest in turning it into a series.”

He added: “Her desk is a beautiful chaos of notes and pages for this great passion. We are going to discuss what happens with it next.”

Susanne Notman (Photograph supplied)

Playwright and director Carol Birch said Ms Notman’s passion for theatre shone in her roles.

“I remember particularly seeing her as Mrs Kendall in The Elephant Man and Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire.

“I was honoured to direct her in Little Wars in 2016, little knowing that it would be her last great performance, in which she played Gertrude Stein to the hilt.

“Susanne was a force to be reckoned with on and offstage.”

Ms Birch added: “It is so sad that she has played her last role, taken her last bow and exited stage right.

“She has left a legacy in her son Stephen.”

David and Susanne Notman (Photograph supplied)

Aideen Ratteray Pryce, a former director at BIFF, called her “a supporter of all aspects of the arts” who threw her energy into guest selection for the festival.

Ms Notman could speak “intelligently and at length with filmmakers about their work.”

Ms Pryce said: “She was involved in the first BIFF when we were fortunate to have the actress Jane Alexander as chair.

“Susanne looked after her. She was exactly the right person.”

Ms Notman worked as a festival administrator and served on the BIFF board — but specialised in welcoming festival guests.

Her friend Felicite Davison told the funeral service that Ms Notman was a night owl who hosted “legendary” parties after the Bermuda Festival.

Ms Davison said: “She was a perfect hostess with her generous enthusiasm for the theatre, film and writing.”

Ms Notman was “always smiling, beautifully arrayed with elegantly draped scarves or shawls — she always seemed to be full of joy”.

Carol Ashton said her friend “made me feel like a better person”.

“She was very gifted and very modest about herself.

“She never boasted but her pride showed through.”

Jenn Campbell, who met Ms Notman in 2002, said: “When she told me that I was like a daughter, I believed her — because she treated me like one.”

She added: “She had a heart that could not be contained within 22 square miles.”

Susanne Elizabeth Pride Notman, an actor, journalist and writer, was born on March 5, 1946. She died on January 22, 2022, aged 75.

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Published January 31, 2022 at 9:51 am (Updated January 31, 2022 at 9:51 am)

Susanne Notman (1946-2022): ‘spirit of theatre at its best’

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