Gregory Doran and Antony Sher pay tribute to former RSC Artistic Director Terry Hands, who died on 4 February 2020.

Gregory Doran

It is with great sadness that we have learned of the death of Terry Hands. Terry was an inspirational director with an international reputation who ran the RSC for 13 years.

I first worked with Terry in his 1987 production of Julius Caesar with Roger Allam as Brutus, and was his assistant on Romeo and Juliet with Mark Rylance as Romeo the following year. He taught me to honour the driving impulse under Shakespeare’s text, and how to share that with an audience, and keep them gripped by that momentum. I owe a great deal to him as a mentor and as a friend, and like so many, feel his loss deeply.

He originally joined the RSC to run Theatregoround in 1966, (having founded the Liverpool Everyman), became joint Artistic Director with Trevor Nunn in 1978, and took over as sole chief executive in 1986, running the company until 1990.

Terry Hands standing in a black polo neck with a stick held in his right hand - black and white
Terry Hands in rehearsals in 1969
Photo by Reg Wilson © RSC Browse and license our images

He might be best remembered for the productions he directed with the actor Alan Howard, a working partnership which developed over more than fifteen years through their celebrated work on Henry IV Parts I and II, and Henry V in 1975. That relationship continued with his Olivier award-winning Henry VI Trilogy in 1977 in which Alan played the saintly king opposite Helen Mirren as Queen Margaret. It encompassed a magnificent Coriolanus in 1978 (which like Henry V enjoyed a European tour) and concluded with productions of Richard II and Richard III in 1980.

Terry forged working partnerships with other great actors including Derek Jacobi and Sinead Cusack, directing them both in a sensational Cyrano de Bergerac (which won him both the Olivier and the Critics’ Circle award for best director); and a delightful Much Ado About Nothing. Both productions transferred to Broadway. Sadly, Cyrano was the only one of Terry’s production which was filmed.

Terry also enjoyed creative relationships with Ben Kingsley and David Suchet whom he directed as Othello and Iago in 1985; and Jeremy Irons who played Leontes in Terry’s 1986 production of The Winters Tale. He also had significant success with Antony Sher both as Singer by Peter Flannery in 1989, and Tamburlaine the Great on his return to the company in 1992 (which again won him the Critics’ Circle Award and the Evening Standard Award).

His other major creative relationship was with the designer Abd’Elkader Farrah with whom he worked on many occasions.

Terry only tackled the other three great tragedies: Macbeth, King Lear and Hamlet, once he had left the RSC and taken over Theatr Clywd, where Nicol Williamson played King Lear.

One of Terry’s earliest successes at Stratford was The Merry Wives of Windsor, with Ian Richardson as Ford, and Brenda Bruce and Elizabeth Spriggs as the Wives. He repeated the play at the National Theatre after his departure for the RSC. It was the only play he directed there.

Terry did 21 Shakespeare plays during his time in Stratford in 25 productions. He also directed a great variety of other work, from Middleton (Women Beware Women and The Changeling) to musicals (the award-winning Poppy by Peter Nichols, and the less successful Carrie). His work included classics like Chekhov’s The Seagull with Susan Fleetwood breathtaking as Arkadina, and Simon Russell Beale as her son Constantin; and TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral with Richard Pasco as Becket. Terry also produced challenging new work such as Peter Barnes’ Bewitched, and Red Noses, Cries from Casement by David Rudkin, and The Balcony by Jean Genet.

Terry was a true European. His international directing work took him to Berlin, Brussels, Vienna, Zurich and Oslo. He enjoyed success at the Comédie-Française; and directed Plácido Domingo as Otello at the Paris Opera, as well as Parsifal at the Royal Opera House. 

Terry was appointed CBE in 2007.

Antony Sher

I owe an enormous amount to Terry Hands. First of all, he co-founded the Liverpool Everyman, where I started my career. And then, when I joined the RSC, he became my mentor, and taught me how to be a classical actor. I’m very proud of the shows we did together: two outstanding new plays, Peter Barnes’ Red Noses and Peter Flannery’s Singer, and a great revival of Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great. He was a brilliant and witty man, and a remarkable director, able to create real stage magic, epic images of beauty and power. I will miss him hugely.