RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran pays tribute to Cicely Berry

“A lass unparallel’d”

"It is with profound sadness that I have to report the death of Cicely Berry. She was frequently described as the RSC’s legendary voice guru, and though she always hated that description, it describes her perfectly.

"Cis joined the RSC in 1969, on the invitation of Trevor Nunn. When he made her head of voice the following year, we became the first company ever to have a permanent full-time voice department. Over the next five decades she changed the way we thought about voice and text.

"She had a founding role in the tradition of modern voice teaching, and her influence today, not only on the acting community, in this country and around the world; and on generations of directors; but on the way we transform young lives by introducing her rehearsal working methods into the classroom through our education work, is immense.

"She believed, with her colleague and ally Peter Brook, that for Shakespeare language is not just a means of communication but an index of character, expressing their vitality and emotional essence.

"Her personality of course had much to do with her influence. Her openness combined with a sharp determination, her dedication to the work, her intellectual rigour, and lively curiosity, her abiding concern for the interests of actors, and her sense of mischief made her hugely popular.

"She was radical and subversive, playful and provocative, utterly unsentimental, and rigorously unpretentious.  She gave unstinting support to the work of Buzz Goodbody in The Other Place, and directed her own version of what she called Shakespeare’s most Marxist play, King Lear, there in 1988, a startlingly fresh production, viscerally connected to the power of words, which honoured the violence and physicality of the text. Her mantra was a line from Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy 'Where words prevail not, violence prevails'. That expressed her political philosophy precisely. Not unsurprisingly perhaps she was also an unfailing champion of the challenging work of David Rudkin, and her friend Edward Bond.

"Her last encounter with the acting company was on the stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre conducting a warm up for the press night of my own production of The Tempest in 2016. Sparrow-thin and supported on her stick, she had the actors running around the space connecting to every corner of the theatre, filling their breath down into their lungs, and deep into their bodies, preparing them to connect to the language and honour the task before them.

"Cicely died peacefully in her sleep on Monday night, in the care home in Cornwall where her family settled her earlier this year. She was 92."

Gregory Doran