Actress and director

Born: September 28, 1918;

Died: April 8, 2020.

IDA Schuster-Berkeley, who has died at the age of 101, was for decades a pillar of the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow and a founder member of the Unity Theatre. She was probably best remembered for roles in the original productions of the landmark Scottish plays, The Slab Boys and The Steamie,.

She had recently become the world’s oldest podcaster by recording an acclaimed podcast, Old School, about her career for broadcaster Janice Forsyth’s Big Light company.

While at the Citizens Theatre, she appeared in five consecutive directorial regimes and was part of the Citizens Company which went to the Venice Biennale with Goldoni’s La Guerra and to Amsterdam in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.

Ida was the youngest of six sisters and three brothers born to Jewish immigrants Dora and Joseph Schuster, who had arrived in Glasgow from Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1899. She was a pupil at Strathbungo School when her performing career began in impromptu performances in the back-courts of Gorbals tenements.

Her sister Ray married Avrom Greenbaum, who formed the Jewish Institute Players in the late 1930s, and the Players, with Ida as a main actress, performed a significant role in Scottish community drama festivals, winning many accolades, with Ida years later becoming an adjudicator at such events. Several theatre groups including the Players merged to form Unity Theatre in the 1940s.

During the war she was conscripted into the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and served with RAF Fighter Command. After the war her husband-to-be, Dr Allan Berkeley, returned from spending more than three years in a Japanese PoW camp, and they married in December 1945. He started a medical practice in Oxford Street in the Gorbals, later becoming the doctor for the Citizens Theatre. Ida became a doctor’s wife and then mother to sons Howard and Peter. She juggled her domestic life with major stage roles in The Glass Menagerie, Juno and the Paycock, and Long Day’s Journey into Night.

In 1962 she appeared in the Christmas pantomime, Saturmacnalia at the Citizens Theatre. Later, on two days’ notice, when a principal actress fell ill, she stepped in to a leading part in Live Like Pigs, her script cleverly concealed in the ragged costume but quickly discarded as her confidence grew.

Television followed, initially with one line as a postmistress in Dr Finlay’s Casebook, then spots in Hamish Macbeth and Taggart; she once memorably burst out of a huge birthday cake in a pin-stripe suit and fedora with a gun pretending to shoot her gangster son at his birthday party. She played Carla, an Italian café owner, in the early Scottish soap, Garnock Way, and much later, while in her eighties, she joined the original cast of River City as a foil to Johnny Beattie for six months.

Ida’s watchword was “truth”; she tried to find the truth in every script she read and in every character she played, and she instilled truth in other characters when directing.

On stage she played many iconic roles, including Mother Courage at The University Arts Theatre, for whom she directed an early ground-breaking production of Pinter’s The Homecoming to great acclaim.

One of her great loves was her involvement with the inspiring triumvirate at the Citizens Theatre of Giles Havergal, Philip Prowse and Robert David MacDonald.

Ida was in many productions including Mother Courage where Glenda Jackson played the title part, and Schiller’s Mary Stuart, playing the maid to Ann Mitchell’s Mary. Amongst her work as a director was the first production at the Tron, Eine Kleine Nachmutze.

She played Sadie the tea-lady in the original production of John Byrne’s The Slab Boys along with Robbie Coltrane, Elaine Collins and Patrick Doyle, and as Mrs Culfeathers in the original production of Tony Roper’s The Steamie. Film credits include Passing Glory, Gillies MacKinnon’s National Film School graduation film.

She believed in good nutrition and keeping fit, even going to a weekly class till she was 99 and was frequently seen doing her “twice round” the pond at Rouken Glen Park.

She had a strong independent character, as many would attest, but was essentially a caring and understanding mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt and friend. Her son Howard sadly pre-deceased her by 12 days.

She is survived by Peter, his wife Anne, six grandchildren and nine great grandchildren in Holland and Israel. She visited often up to the age of 99 but resolutely stayed at her own home till very recently, with regular visits from the family.

Trevor Schuster-Davis