Deborah Lavin obituary

Other lives: English teacher who wrote plays and poetry

My mother, Deborah Lavin, who has died aged 68 of lung cancer, started out as an actor, moved into teaching English and finished up writing plays and poetry, and studying the life of Eleanor Marx, the youngest daughter of Karl Marx.

Four of her plays were performed in public: Happy Families, a dark comedy first staged at the Man in the Moon theatre in London in 1996 before transferring to Japan; The Body Trade, a domestic comedy that debuted at the Stukke theatre in Berlin in 1997; and two plays performed at the White Bear theatre in London, Murder of Reality (2002) and Dead Sex (2003).

Deborah was a forthright public speaker, and had something to say on almost every topic. She curated and spoke on political, historical and feminist issues at Conway Hall and other venues in London, and helped to found the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) in 2004. Many of her talks are collected on her own website.

She was born in Lambeth, south London, to Michael Lavin, a cartoonist, and his wife, Winifred (nee Owen), a housewife. When she was 12 her family moved to Canada, but in 1968 she returned to London on her own at the age of 16 to take up residence at the Soho Theatre Girls Club, a home in London for young women who were aspiring to become actors.

Some acting work followed in the early 1970s, including in a TV crime drama, Seven Days in the Life of Andrew Pelham (1971). In her early 20s she enrolled at Portsmouth Polytechnic (now the University of Portsmouth) to pursue studies in Latin-American history. She learned Spanish fluently and then taught English to foreign students at a school of English in Islington, north London.

There, in 1975, she met an Argentinian, Gustavo Berns, and they were married by the end of the year. Gustavo was Deborah’s second husband; she had ended a brief marriage, to Adrian Burgess, a year or so before.

Deborah and Gustavo settled in London and had three children before divorcing in 1985, after which she raised us on her own while working in a variety of settings, including as a teacher of advanced business English to employees of Japanese and Korean banks and, for much of the late 80s and early 90s, English at adult education colleges in Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Greenwich and Lambeth.

She also did freelance work as a translator, set up a theatrical agency in the mid-90s, returned to acting (mostly as an extra) and began to turn her attentions to creative writing.

In her last days her focus was on her “little project”, a book she had been writing for many years about the relationship between Eleanor Marx and her father.

Deborah’s final months were darkened by the death of her daughter Magdalen, who died of a brain tumour last year. She is survived by other children, Richard and me, three grandchildren and her brothers, Michael and David.

Elizabeth Berns

The GuardianTramp

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