Philip Hedley obituary


From 1979 to 2004 Philip Hedley, who has died aged 85, was inventive director of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. This was the fabled venue of the Theatre Workshop firm created by Joan Littlewood, who had withdrawn from the place in 1975, grief-stricken on the dying of her associate and supervisor, Gerry Raffles. She died in 2002.

Hedley saved the flame, and the theatre, alive, taking on in the course of a disaster when the Arts Council threatened to withdraw their help except he justified it inside two years. He took up the problem, instigating selection nights (hosted by the actor Kate Williams), poetry readings, a farce about Margaret Thatcher and a Lindsay Anderson manufacturing of Hamlet starring Frank Grimes.

He clinched the cope with Nell Dunn’s Steaming (1981), directed by Roger Smith, which was an allegory of his personal endangered state of affairs within the story of a threatened Turkish bathtub for women. It transferred to the West Finish, received an Olivier award, moved on to Broadway and have become a movie directed by Joseph Losey. The fantastic Stratford East solid included Georgina Hale, Patti Love and Brenda Blethyn.

Newly empowered, Hedley took a deep dive into some of the racially blended boroughs in Britain – Newham – creating work that mirrored the social points and experiences of the various area people. He championed black and Asian writers, administrators and actors; commissioned new performs on care houses, library closures, curriculum shrinking in faculties (notably within the arts); and nurtured a string of gifted names as affiliate and assistant administrators: Indhu Rubasingham, now director designate of the Nationwide Theatre; Clint Dyer, present NT deputy director; Michael Buffong, inventive director of Talawa theatre firm; the director Matthew Xia; and Kerry Michael, who succeeded him as inventive director.

All through his regime, Hedley, who had been each an Arts Council panellist and chairman of the board at Stratford East earlier than taking on as director, remained an outspoken, impassioned campaigner in opposition to Arts Council cuts (“All the time chunk the hand that feeds you,” was his recommendation to administrators and directors) and disguised types of censorship, sustaining a tireless presence in faculties and social centres in Newham.

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Paul J Medford (Little Moe), left, in 5 Guys Named Moe by Clarke Peters on the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. {Photograph}: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

He was a devoted advocate of pantomime as a style, and people produced yearly at Stratford East had been often one of the best on the town, with unique music, a dwell band of 5 or 6 musicians, an excellent dame within the actor Michael Bertenshaw and delightful, vibrant designs by Jenny Tiramani.

Maybe the best asset of the Theatre Royal is its native viewers – dedicated to the theatre, and participatory with a vibrant, casual sense of event. I grew up in close by Ilford and noticed many exhibits there in my youth. The engagement of the Stratford viewers, from the time of Littlewood proper by way of to the current inventive directorship of Nadia Fall, has grown exponentially because the theatre has elevated its involvement with the group on its doorstep. Hedley had a profound understanding of this. The spirit of the place is magical and indelible.

All the identical, a second main disaster was looming on the finish of the Nineteen Eighties. As soon as once more, the theatre was saved by a superb present. 5 Guys Named Moe (1990), devised by the actor Clarke Peters, to the music and lyrics of Louis Jordan, was remodeled right into a money-spinning West Finish hit by Cameron Waterproof coat, who made a superb deal for the theatre, impressed by Hedley’s risk-taking bravery.

Hedley was born in Manchester, the second son of Leonard Hedley, a police officer and, later, a grocery store supervisor, and his spouse Gladys (nee Addison). His mom later modified her title to Lois Gould, after she divorced Leonard and married Leslie Gould, head of music at Paramount movies and later an government at Philips, the file firm; Philip grew up with Gould and at all times regarded him as his father.

He spent a 12 months at Hutton grammar faculty in Preston earlier than his mom and stepfather moved to London, the place he attended the Stationers’ Firm’s faculty in Hornsey. Gould’s work took the household to Australia in 1951, and Philip attended Hampton highschool in Melbourne earlier than they moved on to Sydney, the place he learn English at Sydney College.

Returning to Britain in 1960, and impressed by Littlewood’s work at Stratford East, Hedley enrolled in 1961 as a founder scholar on the E15 performing faculty run by Margaret Bury, which educated college students in Littlewood’s sensible rehearsal strategies in addition to within the teachings of Stanislavski and the motion evaluation of Rudolf Laban.

After graduating, he took his first job as an performing assistant stage supervisor on the Liverpool Playhouse in 1963 the place, he mentioned, within the first week he was seduced by each the main woman and the main man.

He returned to the E15 performing faculty as a instructor and producer (1964-66), happening to show at Lamda (1966-67) and dealing in rep as a contract director earlier than being appointed inventive director of the Theatre Royal Lincoln. There, between 1967 and 1970, he directed greater than 20 productions, together with The Marie Lloyd Story, which Littlewood had premiered in Stratford in 1967.

Earlier than becoming a member of Littlewood as an affiliate, he served two years as inventive director of the Midland Arts Theatre Firm in Birmingham, the place he struck up inventive relationships with the playwrights Henry Livings and David Cregan, each of whom would write for him at Stratford.

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Tameka Empson in The Massive Life. {Photograph}: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Both facet of 5 Guys, he hosted an essential theatre double of Mike Leigh: first, in 1990, an 80-minute hilarious suburban nightmare, Greek Tragedy, which had been commissioned and carried out by the Belvoir Avenue theatre firm in Sydney; after which considered one of Leigh’s strongest works, It’s a Nice Massive Disgrace (1993), taking its title from a Gus Elen music corridor music, an excellent double Stratford drama – historic and fashionable – set round two separate murders in the identical handle throughout a century, starring Kathy Burke.

Different notable productions on his watch had been a number of musical performs of Ken Hill – together with The Phantom of the Opera, earlier than the Lloyd Webber model, in 1984, and The Invisible Man in 1991 (which transferred to the West Finish in 1993); the British premiere in 1988 of Lorca’s The Public, directed and designed by Ultz, a surrealist celebration sport with moments of nice energy and sweetness; and, within the Nineties, the raucous comedy sketch exhibits from the Posse, a gaggle of black male actors, and the Bibi Crew collective of black feminine writers and actors, which rocked the previous place to its foundations with laughter and disrespect.

In 2004, Dyer’s manufacturing of The Massive Life, a ska musical in regards to the Windrush technology set to a Shakespearian plot line (of Love’s Labour’s Misplaced), written by the Stratford common Paul Sirett and the composer Paul Joseph, was among the finest new works in that period.

One other strand of his work was commissioning in style exhibits in regards to the lives of well-known showbusiness icons: Josephine Baker, Fatty Arbuckle, Sammy Davis Jr and Marilyn Monroe. These solid hyperlinks with the older group on his doorstep with recollections of Hollywood and selection.

Hedley by no means misplaced contact together with his theatre, after stepping down in 2004, and solely final 12 months paid a transferring tribute to considered one of Littlewood’s fundamental actors, Murray Melvin, in a memorial held on the Theatro Technis, in Camden City, the place his protege Kerry Michael is now the director.

He was appointed CBE in 2005, held an honorary doctorate from the College of East London (2011), performed the Queen within the raucous 1972 Littlewood manufacturing of British holidaymakers in Spain (Frank Norman’s Costa Packet) and infrequently amused his pals at events with an impromptu model of the Nineteenth-century musical corridor music The Daring Younger Man on the Flying Trapeze (who floats by way of the air with the best of ease). Hedley flew, however not that simply. Protecting Stratford going was at all times a battle, however he by no means stinted on his heroic, in the end rewarding effort.


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