Born on 20 March 1912 in Manchester, Christopher was the younger son of the celebrated theatrical couple, Dame Sybil Thorndike and Sir Lewis Casson. He made his stage debut at age three in a crowd scene in Julius Caesar at the Old Vic. After training at the HMS Worcester and at the Royal Naval College Dartmouth, and a brief naval career, Christopher enrolled at Elsie Fogarty’s Central School of Dramatic Art at the Albert Hall. His professional theatrical life began in 1930, when he toured with Ben Greet’s company, playing Shakespearean roles. He also toured to Egypt, Palestine, Australia, and New Zealand, where he appeared with his parents.
In 1938, Christopher joined the Edwards and MacLiammoir company at the Gate in Dublin and in 1941 married the Irish artist and stage designer, Kay O’Connell, with his mentor Micheal Mac Liammoir as best man.
In 1946, Christopher became an Irish Citizen, and converted to Roman Catholicism. He moved to Longford Productions at the Gate Theatre, where he acted and directed until becoming a freelance actor in 1950, working in television, radio, stage and screen. His celebrated roles on stage include the title role in Hofmannsthal’s Everyman at the Old Capital Theatre and the lead role in This Other Eden by Louis D’Alton, which enjoyed a record breaking run at the Abbey Theatre in 1953.
Christopher attained national recognition when he joined the cast of RTÉ’s The Riordans, as Canon Browne. He also had parts in BBC productions, notably The Irish RM, Autumn Sunshine and Strangers and Brothers. His film credits include Captain Lightfoot, Shake Hands with the Devil, and Frankie Starlight.
Christopher was a deeply spiritual and intellectual man. He was a distinguished harpist and ballad singer, and a talented visual artist. He taught dramatic speech to Irish priests at All Hallow’s College for over forty years.
In July 1984, Christopher was honoured with an ‘Equity for Life Membership’, presented to him at the Gate during a run of A Woman of No Importance. In 1995, while performing as Sir William Lucas in the Gate’s Pride and Prejudice, Christopher celebrated his eighty-third birthday and his eightieth year on stage. This was marked by a surprise dinner hosted by the Gate Theatre at the Berkeley Court Hotel, with over 400 guests in attendance. He has two daughters Glynis and Bronwen, who are involved in theatre performance and stage design. Christopher Casson died on 9 July 1996.
Archival History ↴
Transferred to Dublin City Archives by Glynis Casson in two parts on 10 November 2009 and 18 January 2010.
Immediate Source Acquisition ↴
Content & Structure
Scope & Content: Thorndike/Casson Family ↴
Programmes, Posters, Playbills (1924-1925):
Correspondence: Includes correspondence between Christopher Cason and his parents (1936-1976) includes letters to Sybil from George Bernard Shaw (who wrote St. Joan for Sybil), which date 1926- 1930, copy of letter from J. M Barrie (1927) engaging Mary Casson as Wendy in Peter Pan; Letters include discussions relating to Gate Theatre, Abbey Theatre, Lord Longford Productions, Gaiety Theatre, Michéal Mac Liammóir, Hilton Edwards. Includes also letters to Sybil from Robert Armitage, John Perry, John Gielgud, Edwards and Mac Liammóir, Cardinal Heenan, Peace Pledge Union, and Downing Street; Includes scrapbook presented to Christopher Casson on his 83rd birthday with letters from Letters from President Mary Robinson, Taoiseach John Bruton, Tánaiste Dick Spring, Michael D. Higgins, John Casson, Kevin McHugh, Hugh Leonard, Milo O’Shea, Brian Friel, Alpho O’Reily and Tomas Mac Eanna (see ITA/263/02/95); includes also letter from Bertie Ahern to Glynis and Bronwen offering condolence on death of Christopher (see ITA/263/02/95). Family nicknames frequently used in correspondence include Kiff ( Christopher), Womby (Bronwen), and S&L (Sybil and Lewis).
Photographs : Production, publicity and street-clothes photographs of Sybil Thorndike and Lewis Casson dating 1880-1976 –41 photographs of Christopher Casson c. 1924-1955 – includes production shots of Christopher; Christopher on his wedding day to Kay Casson (ITA/263/03/54-55); 26 photographs of Lord Longford productions at Gate Theatre (1936-1961) featuring Christopher, Aiden Grennell, Alpho O’Reilly and other actors;
Script and Production Notes: Includes photocopy of Water in Drimnagh (ITA/263/04/03) written for Hilton-Edwards Christmas Revue Show, 1944; notes for Spoken Arts recordings, musical recitals and Mystery and History: A recital of Song, harp and Poetry (ITA/263/12-17).
Diaries of Christopher Casson (1989-1996)
School Reports (1921-1926):
Drawings/Paintings/Sketches: 320 paintings by Christopher Casson and 1 crayon sketch by Kay Casson, titled Purgatory (ITA/263/07/321)
Unpublished Writings by Christopher Casson: including handwritten memoirs; Notes relating to acting and Casson’s teaching work at All Hallows. Writing by Kay Casson includes an account of an unsuccessful tour of the U.S in 1953 and a short story titled ‘Silk Satin, Banín Rags’
Printed Material & Press-cuttings
Miscellaneous: Includes autograph book belonging to Christopher Casson with autographs of various actors and notes, drawings and poems (ITA/263/11/01), and files relating to the funerals of Sybil Thorndike, Christopher Casson, and Micheál Mac Liammóir. Includes also miscellaneous material relating to Sybil such as poems by T. H Jones and J.B Priestley, and a dissertation by Sorcha Fox. Includes also typescript article about Anew MacMaster (ITA/263/11/11). Also includes A Tribute to Christopher Casson a documentary on his life and career on video and DVD (ITA/263/11/12).
Appraisal Destruction ↴
The collection is arranged mainly by document type.
Each category is represented by numbers e.g. 01 Scripts, 02 Handbills/leaflets, 03 Posters, etc. Sub-categories exist, particular to identify material which relates specifically to either Sybil and Lewis, or Christopher. The records are then listed in chronological order.
Conditions of Access & Use
Available to view by public who apply for research card in Dublin City Library and Archive Reading Room, 138-144 Pearse Street, Dublin 2.
Conditions Governing Reproduction
Subject to Dublin City Library and Archive Reading Room Terms of Membership and in accordance with copyright legislation.
Irish Theatre Archive at Dublin City Library and Archive. In particular see ITA Theatre Programs Database; ITA/206 Turner Collection: Michéal Mac Liammóir Collection; ITA/268 Sheila and Carmel Leahy Collection; The Christopher Casson collection also includes 5 archive boxes of philosophical writings, which have not been included in this descriptive list.
Extended biographical notes and scope and content information about this collection is available at www.dublincityarchives.ie
Descriptive Control Area
Lisa Coen; Ellen Murphy
ISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottawa: International Council on Archives, 2000.