Jan Dungey obituary

Other lives: Performer who was one of the founders of the all-female Cunning Stunts theatre group

My friend Jan Dungey, who has died aged 68, was a founder of Cunning Stunts, an all-female theatre company that performed at festivals, village halls and clubs around the UK – as well as in women’s prisons and psychiatric units – between 1977 and 1982.

Jan was also a performer with the company as it created a spontaneous form of theatre that was socially aware and non-elitist, highlighting “the absurdity of male behaviour” and flouting the prevailing glamorous image of women as entertainers.

A force to be reckoned with and standing at 6ft 2in, she was a memorable presence wherever she went, a beautiful and fearless woman who carried a bright flame of inspiration that was fanned by her determination, intelligence and infectious humour.

Jan had a powerful singing voice, and also performed blues and country songs at some of the countercultural Albion Fairs that took place around East Anglia in the early 1980s.

Jan Dungey in 2002
Jan Dungey in 2002 Photograph: none

After the demise of Cunning Stunts she decamped to Bungay in Suffolk, which became home for the rest of her life. There she conceived and set up the Company of Imagination (1986-91), a multidisciplinary group that created site-specific outdoor promenade performances, known as “animated trails”, in rural and urban settings. Many of the company’s projects were created with schoolchildren, enabling them to explore, understand and respond to their local environment. Jan was instrumental in making sure that most of the projects were funded by an unusual mix of environmental, built-heritage and arts bodies.

She was born in Maidstone in Kent, to Grace (nee Murdoch), a secretary, and her husband, James Dungey, an architect and surveyor. After attending Maidstone girls’ grammar school, she took a degree in English literature at Bristol University from 1971 to 1974 and then did performance studies for a year at Bretton Hall College of Education in West Yorkshire.

When the Company of Imagination folded in the early 90s, Jan had stints as a council arts officer in Maidstone and then Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. Local authorities were not her natural home, and although she managed to be of great help to the creative sectors in both towns, including through setting up SeaChange Arts (now Out There Arts), an independent arts development charity in Great Yarmouth, she frequently ran up against the system that employed her.

In 2000 she returned to freelance and self-directed projects. Despite having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the late 90s she continued to initiate many creative projects, and in 2010 was a co-founder of Waveney & Blyth Arts on the Norfolk-Suffolk border.

After 20 years of the creeping paralysis of MS, Jan was undone by Covid-19.

She is survived by her long-term partner, Steve Cooke, whom she met when he was an electrician helping to set up the Albion Fairs.

Nicky Stainton

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
John Harrison obituary
Other lives: Teacher of classics and driving force behind the creation of a theatre at Oundle school

Vic Northwood

14, Nov, 2018 @5:16 PM

Article image
John Pick obituary
Other lives: Director of arts adminstration studies at City University in London

Martyn Pick

02, Mar, 2020 @1:30 PM

Article image
John Prior obituary
Other lives: Catholic priest and theologian who spent most of his life working on the Indonesian island of Flores

Mary Prior

31, Jul, 2022 @4:37 PM

Article image
Gareth Jones obituary
Other lives: Painter, printmaker and teacher to artists in Wales and Suffolk

Sean Thompson

24, Nov, 2021 @10:12 PM

Article image
Richard Porter obituary
Other lives: Former chief executive of Sightsavers who worked towards universal access to eye care

Joanna Conlon

09, Sep, 2022 @11:59 AM

Article image
John Howson obituary
Other Lives: Collector and publisher of English folk music, particularly from Suffolk

Derek Schofield

24, Jul, 2022 @4:42 PM

Article image
The Right Rev Richard Lewis obituary
Other lives: Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich who had an uncompromising commitment to inclusivity

Ruth Hedley

21, Dec, 2020 @2:44 PM

Article image
Adrian Flynn obituary
Other lives: Playwright and novelist who was a scriptwriter for The Archers for nearly a quarter of a century

Paul Brodrick

13, Dec, 2022 @8:28 PM

Article image
Christine Eccles obituary
Other lives: Theatre director and impresario whose productions in the 1970s had a radical community focus

Carole Woddis

16, Oct, 2022 @4:10 PM

Article image
Ruth Silvestre obituary
Other lives: Singer, actor and author who wrote a trilogy of books about her experiences setting up home in the south west of France

Adam Grater

26, Jan, 2022 @5:50 PM