Tag Archives: RSC

John Goodwin, editor, publicist, writer


John Goodwin, who has died at the age of 97 was one of the most influential behind-the-scene figures of British subsidised theatre in the latter half of the 20th century, admired and sometimes feared in equal measure.

As Peter Hall’s Head of PR and publicity, Goodwin helped secure Hall’s ambition in the early 1960s to secure public subsidy for his newly created Royal Shakespeare Company.

Formed from the seasonal April-September season at Stratford’s Memorial Theatre, Hall introduced a twin-pronged policy of producing Shakespeare in Stratford and contemporary work and Stratford transfers to their newly acquired Aldwych Theatre home in London.20180816_195558

Goodwin it was who ran the press campaign, assiduously courting influential journalists in Hall’s fight to secure public money.

The campaign succeeded and Hall’s vision, run by a triumvirate that included Peter Brook and the French actor, director and teacher, Michel St Denis, became a reality.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the Royal Shakespeare Company, embarked on its most influential era, at the forefront of radical theatre thinking and producing some of its most exciting and experimental work.

Meantime, Goodwin was also quietly instigating a revolution in theatre front-of-house and programme design. Prior to the RSC’s creation, West End programmes and theatre posters had followed a fairly conventional pattern of plain posters and serif lettering with theatre programmes of plain cast lists and credits.

Coming from a background in theatre and publishing – Goodwin had previously worked with Basil Dean at the St James’s Theatre, at Stratford and for the Bodley Head publishers  – he invited graphic designer George Mayhew to join him.

The result was a transformation whose influence continues to today. Together, they introduced pictorial, silk-screen posters and programmes, packed with background articles, interviews and production and rehearsal photos.

Their influence carried through to the National Theatre (then under Sir Laurence Olivier where the theatre critic Ken Tynan with Rozina Adler were also busy instigating a revolution in NT programmes) and can be seen today in the NT’s current theatre programmes, still regarded as pre-eminent in their field for information and style.

When Peter Hall was appointed the NT’s Artistic Director after Olivier, he asked Goodwin to join him in his similar RSC capacity, as Head of Publicity & Publications. Goodwin became an NT Associate and influential member of Hall’s Planning team in the early years of the NT on the South Bank, editing their programmes for fifteen years, from 1973 to 1988.

John Goodwin was born in 1921, one of twins with his sister, Mary (who died in 2010). He was educated at Christ’s Hospital.

During WWII, he served in the Royal Navy and on demob worked first with the West End publicist, David Fairweather, then represented the Shakespeare seasons at Stratford-upon-Avon before a short stint with the Reinhardt/Bodley Head publishing group.

But it was as the Head of Press & Publications of Peter Hall’s newly formed Royal Shakespeare Company that Goodwin began to make his mark. Hall himself paid tribute to Goodwin’s influence when he declared `there would have been no RSC without him’.

In later years, Goodwin told a story of how when the NT moved to South Bank the Arts Council wanted to close the RSC down. Goodwin rang the Daily Telegraph’s then arts correspondent, Ron Hastings, giving facts and figs. Hastings ran the story causing shock and horror.

Goodwin sent Hastings’ article to all the drama critics saying: `This is all true’. There was uproar and the RSC was saved – a typical example of Goodwin’s skill as a persuasive orchestrator of opinion and press relations in general.

Not for nothing was he dubbed `Machiavellian’ by some – a term calculated to insult but with which Goodwin was, perhaps secretly, not entirely displeased. Other epithets applied to him were `formidable’, `genius’ and `sly and brilliant’.

For those who worked with him, all such descriptions were applicable. Small, dapper and unquestionably charismatic, Goodwin became pre-eminently the trusted `eminence grise’ to Hall’s fiery showman.

He was charm personified, a sophisticate of the old school with a whiplash brain that could sometimes be turned to devastating effect. To the teams he created around him, his loyalty was boundless. They, in turn, returned the feeling – many becoming lifelong, steadfast friends.

His scrupulous editing eye, attention to detail and perfectionism set a standard that anybody working with him will have carried through – sometimes as almost a curse – for the rest of their lives.

It also served him well as editor of the Peter Hall Diaries (Hamish Hamilton), as editor of the classic British Theatre Design (Weidenfeld & Nicholson), as guest editor on director Bill Bryden’s photographic memoir (photos by Nobby Clark) and his own short, hugely successful primer to Shakespeare, A Short Guide to Shakespeare’s Plays (reprinted fifteen times) – scarcely bettered and, like its author, succinct, informed and enthusiastic.

He also adapted the Alphone Daudet novel, Sappho, about a passionate affair between an older woman and a younger man, A Most Sweet Poison (published by Oberon) and co-authored the actor, Trader Faulkner’s one man show, Losing My Marbles.

A theatre enthusiast to the end, Goodwin had the magical gift of listening. There will be many who will have poured their hearts out to him and the advice he could render would nearly always be to the point and wise. Conversations with him could range widely, over many subjects from theatre to literature, politics – he declared himself a lifelong Labour man – and latterly religion after his conversion to Catholicism following the death in 2008 of his beloved wife, the novelist, Suzanne Ebel, also a Catholic.

With perfect equanimity he would argue, after his conversion, that the attraction for him in religion was precisely its mystery and unknowingness – `unfathomable, unanswerable, unsolvable. It can’t be proved.’

His conversion remained all the more surprising and puzzling to friends who had always known him as a man of scepticism and, almost, agnosticism. But the attractions of its rituals and perhaps most importantly, of the promise of the life hereafter in which he would be reunited with Suzanne, may have provided the biggest pull on his imagination.

In later years, his views on current theatre trends would border on the acerbic – he was disappointed in the RSC and even the NT under Nick Hytner to whom he attributed praise for widening the NT’s audience but not his choice of plays or style of productions.

But the twinkle in the eye and his rich sense of life’s absurdities along with his enduring love for theatre never waned. It was after all in his blood. His ancestors were variety artists and strolling players who pulled a cart behind them. His mother was the musical comedy actress, Jessie Lonnen. His father, who died when Goodwin was three, was a Civil Servant with the Inland Revenue.

Goodwin tells a lovely story of how theatre became his chosen career: `When I came out of the Navy, my mother said “what are you going to do with your life?” I said I was interested in theatre and journalism. She said: “I know someone you should go to: David Fairweather”.’

`There were four theatre publicists for the West End at that time including David. They were paid in small royalties for as long as a show was on. I would go with David to the stage door; he’d get his money in cash. I thought, “This is the biz to be in”. He’d pick up £5-£700 a week – a vast sum in those days.’

Goodwin might have made a career as a journalist early on except, he later declared, he found it `boring’. How ironical coming from a man who subsequently went on to become one of the theatre industry’s most successful `handlers’ of journalists. (Coincidentally, Goodwin’s brother-in-law, by marriage to Suzanne, was John Bingham, thriller novelist and sometime M15 chief, one of the possible models for John le Carre’s famously modest but highly efficient secret service spy, George Smiley).

As conversationalist and mentor, loved and respected by many, John Goodwin’s professional legacy as Peter Hall’s master-mind is as assured as is his role as editor and publicist supreme. Rest in peace, old friend.

John Goodwin: b: May 4, 1921; d: July 30, 2018.

He is survived by his son, Timothy, his step-daughter, Marigold, seven grand, nine great-grandchildren and his much loved niece, Jess, his sister Mary’s daughter.

Obituary published on this site, Aug 19, 2018


Ian Richardson – obit


IAN RICHARDSON – obituary – Carole Woddis

There can’t be many actors who suddenly find themselves the centre of an awards night dedication. But that is exactly what happened at last week’s BAFTA awards. Apologising for `going on a bit’, Dame Helen Mirren, appearing on the point of tears, accepted her Best Actress award with the words, `this is for Ian’.

Mirren was a young actress when Ian Richardson, by then an established member of Peter Hall’s RSC, took Mirren under his wing and gave her `confidence in myself. He became my mentor’.

Outwardly, Richardson, 72, who died quietly in his sleep last Friday (February 9th) seemed less the avuncular counsellor, more like a dapper cobra. There was nobody who could point a line like Richardson or endow it with more acidic or ironic precision. Not for nothing has his passing been marked by universal reference to his portrayal of Francis Urquhart in the BBC’s adaptation of Michael Dobbs’ House of Cards (1990), for which he won a BAFTA. No one who saw him will ever forget the smiling, silky menace with which he endowed the words: `You may think that: I couldn’t possibly comment.’

Little wonder that the phrase has now entered the Westminster political lexicon or that news of his death last week brought mention on national news bulletins. Such was his impact, it even prompted political editors on the national newspapers to mourn his passing.

Despite this, his appearance on the two sequels, To Play the King (1993), The Final Cut (1995), and many other acclaimed tv roles which included Sherlock Holmes, Lord Groan in Gormenghast, the `tailor’ in John Le Carre (accent on the e)’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979), Sir Godber Evans in Porterhouse Blue (1987), the defending counsel in Terence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy (1989) and more recently, Bleak House (2005) and Hogfather (2006), it was as a peerless classical actor that Ian Richardson should be remembered.

Ian William Richardson was born in Edinburgh, in 1934, the son of a biscuit factory manager. He attended Tynecastle school, later training as an actor at Glasgow’s College of Dramatic Art before going on to join Birmingham Rep where Sir Barry Jackson held sway. At 24, he played Hamlet but by 1960, he was being whisked to Stratford-upon-Avon to join Sir Peter Hall’s newly inscribed Royal Shakespeare Company, becoming a founding member, staying 15 years and working alongside Peggy Ashcroft, Sir John Gielgud and an up-and-coming Judi Dench.

With his physical elegance, vocal dexterity, speed, lightness of touch and a certain nervy restlessness, he quickly began to make his mark. Outstanding early roles included Oberon in Peter Hall”s 1962 A Midsummer Night’s Dream (to Dench’s Titania) and an Antipholus of Ephesus in Clifford Williams’ hurriedly rehearsed Comedy of Errors (1962) which still stands out for this viewer as a masterclass of comic timing and subtle double takes, only equalled by his similarly inspired Master Ford in Terry Hands’ The Merry Wives of Windsor, a whirling top of supposed cuckolded jealousy.

Richardson went on to find acclaim in Peter Brook’s Marat/Sade (1964), as Vendice in Trevor Nunn’s The Revenger’s Tragedy (1969), as Cassius, Angelo and Prospero, a dazzling Berowne in Love’s Labours Lost and not least, alternating the role of Richard II and Bolingbroke with Richard Pasco in John Barton’s 1973 revelatory dual casting version.

Away from the RSC, he was an award-winning Professor Higgins in the Broadway revival of My Fair Lady (1976) and Humbert Humbert in an ill fated stage version of Lolita.

His last two stage appearances saw him, still in fine voice, if wasted as a creepily misogynistic millionaire in The Creeper by Pauline Macaulay and more gloriously, as Sir Epicure Mammon in Nick Hytner’s revival of Jonson’s The Alchemist at London’s National Theatre.

His last film appearance was in the Jane Austen biopic, shortly to be released. He was due to start filming an episode of Midsomer Murders and had just completed costume and wig fittings.

In 1961, he married the actress Maroussia Frank with whom he had two sons, Jeremy and Miles. In 1989, he was made a CBE.

Ian Richardson: actor, born April 7, 1934; died February 9, 2007.




Royal Shakespeare Company, Barbican Theatte, London ****

© Helen Maybanks, Sope Dirisu, a bloody iconic anti-hero for our time.

© Helen Maybanks, Sope Dirisu, a bloody iconic anti-hero for our time.

Coriolanus may not be the most frequently staged of Shakespeare’s political Roman dramas although it nearly always gets included when a series of them are run together as here with the latest RSC season, under the banner title of Rome MMXVII. Continue reading

The Alchemist

RSC Barbican Theatre, London (****)

© Helen Maybanks, Mark Lockyer as 1the alchemist', Subtle

© Helen Maybanks, Mark Lockyer as the `alchemist’, Subtle

It’s one of the abiding marks of our age, the con. Whether it’s flashy as in The Hustle, aspirational as in the Lottery, or sophisticated as in The Sting, the con runs through our lives. At any one moment, we’re only a hair’s breadth away from being taken for a ride. These days, it’s more likely to be an online or phone scam offering thousands of pounds at the press of a button or a computer to be saved from a terminal virus or even secondary glazing! Continue reading

Queen Anne

Swan Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

© Manuel Harlan

© Manuel Harlan

Why don’t we know more about Queen Anne (1665-1714)? Squashed between William and Mary and the first of the Hanoverians, George I, Anne seems to have been completely overlooked by history or, at least, our agreed cultural narrative that favours Elizabeth and Victoria over the stout, rather solemn figure who stares out from royal portraiture. Continue reading