Former Nottingham Playhouse Artistic Director John Neville passed away at his home in Toronto, Canada on Saturday at the age of 86.
One of the leading classical actors of his generation, he was a stalwart of the Old Vic and a regular face in the West End during the 1950s when he was acclaimed for performances that included Romeo, Richard II, Hamlet (to Judi Dench’s Ophelia in her professional debut), and Othello and Iago, roles he alternated with Richard Burton.
Determined to build a world-renowned theatre company in the centre of England to rival London, Neville moved to Nottingham and took over as Artistic Director of the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company from 1963 – 1968. He oversaw the completion of the new building (designed by Peter Moro) which opened on 11 December 1963.
The Playhouse thrived under Neville’s leadership and became one of Britain’s leading provincial repertory theatres, attracting actors of the highest calibre such as Dame Judy Dench and Sir Ian McKellen.
Neville left England in 1972 for Canada where he held several artistic directorships, including the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, and the Neptune Theatre, Halifax. From 1985 to 1989 he ran the Stratford Festival in Ontario, a much-admired tenure that transformed the fortunes of the ailing company. In later years, he won a cult following in the title role of Terry Gilliam’s epic 1988 fantasy The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen, and in the hit television series The X-Files as “The Well-Manicured Man”, from 1995 1o 1998.
Giles Croft, Artistic Director of Nottingham Playhouse commented:
“John Neville was a star actor who chose to move away from London at the height of his fame to work in Nottingham. He was instrumental in making the Nottingham Playhouse of the 1960s the most exciting theatre in the country and his time here is still talked about with great affection and admiration. He will be sadly missed both here and in Canada, where he continued his remarkable career.”
Stephanie Sirr, Chief Executive of Nottingham Playhouse commented:
“I was recently fortunate enough to attend a major theatre festival in Tblisi, Georgia. When I said I was from Nottingham Playhouse people immediately responded ‘John Neville’. Forty years after his departure from Nottingham, that’s pretty remarkable.”