Desmond Heeley, theatre designer – obituary

desmond-heeley,-theatre-designer –-obituary

Desmond Heeley, who has died aged 85, was an award-winning theatre designer who labored with a number of the best names in theatre, opera and ballet on each side of the Atlantic, although he was greatest identified for his work with the Shakespeare Competition in Ontario, Canada.

Heeley started his profession in Britain as a 16-year-old apprentice within the props division of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon, the place his reward for creating costumes was seen by Peter Brook, who in 1955 commissioned him to design the costumes for a manufacturing of Anouilh’s The Lark in London.

Later the identical 12 months, as Brook’s assistant at Stratford, Heeley designed each costumes and units for Brook’s well-known manufacturing of Titus Andronicus, starring Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.

He went on within the Sixties to design authentic productions for Joe Orton’s Loot; Robert Bolt’s Light Jack, starring Dame Edith Evans, and Graham Greene’s Carving a Statue, starring Ralph Richardson.

He was additionally a lot wanted by ballet and opera firms, working with the Ballet Rambert, then with John Cranko and Kenneth MacMillan ballets at Sadler’s Wells and Covent Backyard, together with Solitaire (1956) and Benjamin Britten’s Prince of the Pagodas (1957). He designed I Puritani for Joan Sutherland at Glyndebourne, and La Traviata and Iolanthe for the Sadler’s Wells Opera.

In 1963 Olivier invited Heeley to design Hamlet for the opening of the Nationwide Theatre with Peter O’Toole within the title position, and later introduced him again to create the costumes and units for Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Useless: “Sir Laurence referred to as me and stated: ‘Oh, expensive boy, now we have this little play with a brand new playwright and a brand new director’,” Heeley recalled, “ ’and it might be ever so useful to them for those who may create certainly one of your great no-particular-place, no-particular-territory units for them – and we want it in three weeks’ .”

Heeley then re-created the units for his debut on Broadway in 1968, successful Tony awards for units and costumes and changing into the primary designer to win each classes for a similar manufacturing.

Heeley additionally designed for the Marquis de Cuevas Ballet in Paris, and for the Opera at La Scala in Milan. Throughout Rudolph Bing’s stewardship of the Metropolitan Opera, he did a Pelleas and Melisande and a Bellini’s Norma (1970), starring Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne. Later work on the Met included Donizetti’s Don Pasquale (1978), starring Beverly Sills, and Puccini’s Manon Lescaut (1980), directed by Gian Carlo Menotti and starring Renata Scotto. He designed a Brigadoon and a South Pacific for New York Metropolis Opera and a Camelot for Broadway.

An extended affiliation with the inventive director Michael Langham started with a 1956 Stratford-upon-Avon manufacturing of Hamlet, however he did one other Hamlet for him (starring Christopher Plummer) on the new Competition Theatre in Stratford, Ontario, the next 12 months and went on to play a formative position with Langham and one other Briton, Stratford’s founding designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch, within the pageant’s early years.

The trio turned often called the “banner brigade” due to the fondness for utilizing banners in Shakespearean productions, a mildly disparaging description probably put about by Langham’s successor as pageant inventive director, Robin Phillips.

Heeley discovered himself persona non grata beneath Phillips within the Seventies, a interval when he labored with Langham on the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. Collectively they collaborated on main productions – together with Anthony Burgess’s adaptation of Oedipus the King and Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker – that improved the theatre’s fortunes after a interval of monetary and inventive disaster.

 Aside from one other brief hiatus throughout John Hirsch’s tenure at Stratford, Heeley remained a pageant mainstay, designing some 40 productions, together with Cyrano de Bergerac (1962); The Duchess of Malfi (1971); Amadeus (1995), and London Assurance (2006). His remaining manufacturing for the pageant was The Significance of Being Earnest, directed by Brian Bedford in 2009, for which he received a Tony award – his third – for greatest costume design after the manufacturing transferred to the Roundabout Theatre in New York.

Heeley’s expertise on the typically cash-strapped pageant honed his fame for, as he put it, “making dross seem like gold”. For Langham’s 1965 manufacturing of Henry IV, Pt I he had a price range for units and costumes of simply $500.

His set for The Significance of Being Earnest, in the meantime, featured an enormous and dazzling “crystal” chandelier constructed with plastic wine glasses, picnic cutlery and adhesive tape. He all the time preferred to color his personal surroundings and concerned himself in each element of visible presentation. “Dross into Gold” was the subtitle of a exhibition, “The Theatre Alchemy of Desmond Heeley”, held at Gallery Stratford in 1997.

Desmond Heeley was born in Staffordshire on June 1 1931, adopted as a child and introduced up by an adoptive mom who, by his account, thought artwork and theatre have been “the way in which of the satan”.

In his early teenagers, nevertheless, a trainer at his faculty seen the drawings he had scribbled in an train e-book and despatched them off to a neighborhood artwork faculty, which awarded him a small, four-month scholarship. His mom was “appalled on the prospect of my changing into a painter,” he recalled. “All she may see was depraved dope fiends in my future, and she or he completely forbade me to simply accept the scholarship.”  However the 14-year previous Heeley dug his heels in, left faculty and went off to attempt his hand as an artist.

After a quick spell as an apprentice on the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, he joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, the place he made his mark designing masks, headdresses and animal palms and toes for a manufacturing of Toad of Toad Corridor and met Tanya Moiseiwitsch, who turned his mentor. His 1956 Hamlet for Michael Langham was his first solo fee.

In addition to Canada, Heeley all the time had loads of work in Britain, America and additional afield. Amongst different issues he designed the pavilion at Caernarvon Fort for the investiture of the Prince of Wales and a ballet model of The Merry Widow (1975), directed by Sir Robert Helpmann in Australia, which transferred to Broadway and the West Finish, with Dame Margot Fonteyn performing the position of Hanna.

Heeley ultimately settled in New York and in later years did a lot work with Houston Ballet.

In 1994 he turned the primary recipient of the Theatre Growth Fund’s Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1997 he was awarded the US Institute for Theatre Expertise Award for his lifetime contribution to the performing arts.

His companion, Lance Mulcahy, a composer, died in 1998.

Desmond Heeley, born June 1 1931, died June 10 2016


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