Our Artistic Director Gregory Doran writes a tribute to the actor Ian Holm, who died last week.

It is with great sadness that we heard today of the death of Sir Ian Holm. Ian was quite simply one of the RSC greats.

Long before he found fame in Chariots of Fire, Alien, Greystoke and as Bilbo Baggins, in The Lord of the Rings, Ian joined the Stratford Company in 1958. The following year, he played Puck opposite Charles Laughton as Bottom in Peter Hall’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, (a role he would reprise a decade later in Hall’s film version of the play).

Ian then joined the newly formed Royal Shakespeare Company and appeared in their mammoth undertaking of the History cycle, The Wars of the Roses, playing the young Gloucester who emerges as King Richard III. He also played Prince Hal in the Henry IV plays and Henry V.

When John Barton died in 2018, Trevor Nunn gave a splendid tribute at his funeral. He talked about how John had taught generations of actors to speak Shakespeare. Until he directed Ian in Henry V. Then Trevor said, it was Ian who taught John. And between them they created the way that modern actors speak Shakespeare.

Ian perfectly expressed the cross fertilisation between classics and new writing that Peter Hall forged in the early days of the RSC. He married the technique of a classical Shakespeare actor and the intense naturalism and economy of style of a modern tradition. This was immediately apparent in his originating of the role of Lenny in the premiere of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming at the Aldwych in 1965.

Ian was entirely original. Entirely a one off. He had a simmering cool, a compressed volcanic sense of ferocity, of danger, a pressure cooker actor, a rare and magnificent talent.

“There’s a great spirit gone”

Gregory Doran Artistic Director

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