RSC ANNOUNCE DEATH OF HONORARY ASSOCIATE ARTIST SIR ANTONY SHER
Date: FRIDAY 3 DECEMER 2021
Video clip: https://vimeo.com/648070903/7d93616ed2
Today the RSC announced the death of Sir Antony Sher, Honorary Associate Artist and husband of Artistic Director, Gregory Doran. Antony was diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier this year with Gregory taking compassionate leave from his role in September to care for Antony.
Catherine Mallyon, RSC Executive Director and Erica Whyman, Acting Artistic Director, said:
‘We are deeply saddened by this news and our thoughts and sincere condolences are with Greg, and with Antony’s family and their friends at this devastating time.
‘Antony had a long association with the RSC and a hugely celebrated career on stage and screen. Antony’s last production with the Company was in the two-hander Kunene and The King, written by his friend and fellow South African actor, writer and activist, John Kani.
‘Other recent productions at the RSC include King Lear, Falstaff in the Henry IV plays and Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. Earlier landmark performances included Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, Iago in Othello, Prospero in The Tempest and the title roles in Macbeth, Tamburlaine the Great, Peter Flannery’s Singer, Cyrano de Bergerac, as well as his career defining Richard III. He also attracted critical acclaim for his performances at the National Theatre in his one man show Primo, Pam Gems’ Stanley (Olivier Award and TONY nominated) and Uncle Vanya with Ian McKellen. In the West End in Torch Song Trilogy (Olivier award winning for this and Richard III), at the Royal Court in Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine and his first big hit playing Ringo Starr in Willy Russell’s John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert; and on film in Mrs Brown and on television in Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man.
‘Antony was a widely exhibited artist and author of multiple books including the theatre journals Year of the King, Woza Shakespeare!, co-written with Gregory Doran, four novels including Middlepost, three plays, a television screenplay and his autobiography Beside Myself.
‘Antony was deeply loved and hugely admired by so many colleagues. He was a ground-breaking role model for many young actors, and it is impossible to comprehend that he is no longer with us. We will ensure friends far and wide have the chance to share tributes and memories in the days to come’.
RSC Chair Shriti Vadera added ‘Our hearts go out to Greg today, as on behalf of all RSC Board members, past and present, we express our deep sadness, affection and condolences to him and other members of Antony’s family. Antony was beloved in the RSC and touched and enriched the lives of so many people’.
Susie Sainsbury, Artists’ Associate and former RSC Deputy Chair said:
‘Tony and Greg were together for over 30 years, and their careers as actor and director have brought them international acclaim, both individually and in the many productions where they worked together so productively. Tony will be remembered for many exceptional roles on stage and screen, but also for his passion for painting and drawing, which occupied his days increasingly in recent years. The last decade – with Greg as Artistic Director of the RSC – has been spent mainly in Stratford-upon-Avon, where Tony was delighted to have his own studio at their house, and we will remember them together not only in the theatre but as genial and generous hosts, with endless good food and fascinating conversations. Their many friends and colleagues will each have particular memories - mine is an image of the two of them, bearded and smiling, on the window seat in their sitting room, utterly content in each other’s company. It is impossible to imagine one without the other, and our thoughts and deep sympathy are with Greg and their families’.
John Kani, Actor and Playwright writes:
‘Both Tony Sher and I were born when our country South Africa was the worst place a child could be born let alone to be raised by parents who worked very hard to prepare their children for a difficult future - Apartheid South Africa. By the Grace his God and my Ancestors, like Romeo and Juliet, we found each other in 1973. We travelled together as compatriots, comrades in the struggle for a better South Africa, as fellow artists and we both had the honour of celebrating together twenty-five years of South Africa’s Democracy in my latest play Kunene and the King. I am at peace with you my friend and myself. Exit my King.
Gregory remains on compassionate leave and is expected to return to work in 2022. The RSC asks that Gregory’s privacy is respected at this time.
For further information contact Kate Evans (Media and Communications Manager) on 07920 244 434 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Biography for Sir Antony Sher
RSC: Honorary Associate Artist. Kunene and the King (Stratford/West End), King Lear (Stratford/Barbican, London/BAM, New York), Henry IV Parts I and II (Stratford/UK tour/Barbican, London/China/BAM, New York. Critics’ Circle Award: Best Shakespeare Performance); Death of a Salesman (Stratford/West End); The Tempest, Othello, The Malcontent, The Roman Actor, Macbeth, The Winter’s Tale, Cyrano de Bergerac, Tamburlaine the Great, Travesties, Singer, Hello and Goodbye, The Revenger’s Tragedy, The Merchant of Venice, Richard III (Evening Standard Best Actor), Red Noses, Astonish Me, Maydays, Tartuffe, Molière, King Lear. As Director: Breakfast With Mugabe.
THEATRE INCLUDES: The Captain of Kopenick, Travelling Light, Primo (in New York, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Best Solo Performance), Stanley (Olivier Best Actor), Titus Andronicus, Uncle Vanya, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, The Trial, True West (National Theatre); One for the Road (Pinter Theatre); Hysteria (Bath Theatre Royal/Hampstead); Broken Glass (Vaudeville/Tricycle); An Enemy of the People (Sheffield Crucible); I.D. (Almeida); Torch Song Trilogy (Albery. Olivier Best Actor); Goose-Pimples (Hampstead/Garrick); Cloud Nine, Prayer for my Daughter, The Glad Hand, Teeth n’ Smiles (Royal Court); John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert (Liverpool Everyman/Lyric).
TELEVISION INCLUDES: The Shadowline, God on Trial, Primo, Home, The Jury, Macbeth, The Winter’s Tale, The Moonstone, Genghis Cohn, Changing Step, The Land of Dreams, Tartuffe, Molière, The History Man, Collision Course, Cold Harbour, The Sheik of Pickersgill. As Writer: Changing Step.
FILM INCLUDES: Churchill: The Hollywood Years, Shakespeare in Love, Mrs Brown (Evening Standard Peter Sellers Film Award), Alive and Kicking, The Wind in the Willows, The Young Poisoner’s Handbook, Erik the Viking, Shadey.
WRITING INCLUDES: Theatre journals Year of the King, Woza Shakespeare! (co-written with Gregory Doran), Year of the Fat Knight and Year of the Mad King; novels Middlepost and Cheap Lives; plays I.D. (Almeida), Primo (National Theatre/Broadway) and The Giant (Hampstead); autobiography Beside Myself; painting and drawings Characters.
ART EXHIBITIONS: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Barbican, London Jewish Cultural Centre, National Theatre, Sheffield Crucible, Coventry Herbert Gallery.
OTHER: Knighted for services to Acting and Writing in 2000.
Thelma Holt, RSC Associate Producer
As Shakespeare might well have said, “We shall not look upon his like again.” The irony of the passing of Tony is that the last play we worked on together was John Kani’s Kunene and the King, in which he played a great actor, who had performed King Lear with enormous success, dying of a terminal illness. A poignant illustration of life imitating art. Tony will no doubt be completing the run of the play, shorn of its final week in the West End because of the pandemic, albeit without John, when he is in heaven, where he will find lots of unemployed actors.
Alexandra Gilbreath, RSC Associate Artist
The King is dead.
Long live the King.
I can’t believe I’m writing this. Antony Sher. The actor who has inspired generations with his seminal book, The Year of the King, is no more.
The book changed everything, he changed everything. His wit, his legendary preparation, his panache, his verse speaking, his extraordinary ability to hook his toes over the front of the stage and seduce every member of the audience. From Richard III to Cyrano, from Stanley Spencer to King Lear. Kings, queens, poets and misfits. There wasn’t a genre that he couldn’t embrace and redefine. He was one of the most charismatic artists of his generation and I mean Artist. Not just actor, but novelist, painter and poet.
Redoubtable. Fearless. Ingenious.
And we’ll never see his like again. I count myself so incredibly fortunate to have shared many exquisite moments on stage with him and my life will forever be the richer. To the rest of the world he’ll remain Sir Antony Sher but for those of us lucky enough to know and love him, he’ll always be ‘Tones.’
‘O brave new world that has such people in’t.’
Patrick Stewart, RSC Honorary Associate Artist
At the time I first joined the RSC in 1966, I could not have anticipated the impact that Company and its directors, producers, designers, audiences and, especially, its actors would have on me then, all those years ago, and right up to the present day. Two of those have been Greg Doran and Antony Sher. For Greg I played Mark Antony and King Claudius, but, sadly, I never worked with Tony. I know he would have been inspiring and unique because I saw his work whenever possible; Richard III, Macbeth and especially Shylock. Tony could be terrifying on stage, but often, also very funny. The one aspect that characterised Tony's stage performances for me however, was his humanity. There was a fragile, living, being, behind all those performances, which breathed truth into everything he did.
I did not know Tony well. I wish I had. But his work will always be inside me, a vivid reminder of why the theatre is so revealing and important in my life.
Professor James Shapiro, former RSC Board Member
From the moment I set first eyes upon his mesmerizing Richard the Third, Tony Sher has profoundly deepened my understanding of Shakespeare. His gifts were extraordinary, and one of the great pleasures of my life has been watching him in the rehearsal room preparing to play King Lear. He was a brilliant actor and an incredibly kind and thoughtful person. Hamlet put it best: “take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.”-
Janet Suzman, RSC Honorary Associate Artist
Tony’s was a ferocious talent. I simply couldn't bear to watch it diminished in its energy and so I am grateful to have seen it at full power. His South African heritage - we share this burden - was only discovered by him quite late in his life, but it surely added to the rich mixture that made him such a magnetic actor. So, unsurprisingly, I recall, amongst his many roles, his ex-Africa Titus Andronicus and his comedically sharp bursts of pain in Kunene and the King most vividly; bookends to a remarkable acting life. I salute my quondam countryman and wish him to go gently into that good night: Hamba gahle, Antony.
John Wyver, RSC Director of Screen Productions
Having admired Tony since his glorious, hideous Howard Kirk forty years ago, and having been privileged to work on four screen adaptations with him, I know Tony to have been a truly great actor, a wonderful writer and painter, a sparkling companion, and the best of husbands to Greg. His generosity, his commitment and his passion were unparalleled, as was his talent.
Joseph Mydell, RSC Actor
After an illustrious career as an actor at the RSC, Antony Sher made his directorial debut with the company, directing Breakfast with Mugabe, by Fraser Grace, starring Noma Dumezweni, David Rintoul, Chris Obi, and myself in the titular role. Tony’s almost shamanistic exploration of Mugabe’s regime as well as the psychological examination of this dictator helped create an atmosphere of highly charged fear and repression which was palpable from the opening of this approximately one hour, forty-five-minute play. He pushed me to my limits in creating a monster of a character who also exhibited human weaknesses of varying degrees. I’m most grateful to Tony for this experience. I also got to know something about Tony, which was not so obvious: he was almost painfully shy. And when you saw him with his partner, Greg Doran, you realise how protective Greg was of him, and it made you aware of their deep love and mutual respect for each other. Deep love. Deep respect: Exemplified in the relationship of Sir Antony Sher and Greg Doran.
Patsy Rodenburg, Voice Director and former RSC Board Member
One of the reasons Shakespeare is our greatest playwrights is that he asks the actor to meet his courage and exactness in body, heart, mind and spirit. Few actors can meet that invitation. Antony Sher is one of the few that do.
Tony’s forensic mind seeks the truth of every word he utters and then his heart ignites that truth to thrill the audience. He never stops working on a play and discovering more and more layers in a role. In this way he transforms himself and the audience performance after performance leaving no one untouched by his presence and artistry. Antony Sher an exemplary theatre artist, a generous and loving actor and friend and an unforgettable storyteller.
Mark Rylance, Actor
I first saw Tony's work as an actor in the theatre with Mike Leigh and was captivated by his immersion and definition as an actor. In 1982 we both joined the RSC and became friends. I remember his infectious laugh and sense of humour most. His meticulous artwork and visual imagination. He was always most generous and kind to me. A gentleman and devoted man of the theatre. A great loss.
Alex Hassell, RSC Associate Artist
Tony was a craftsperson of the highest degree. I’ve never worked with anyone who so fastidiously considered the minutest of details in giving shape to and filling out the life and soul of a character. His deftness, care and sensitivity to how people expose their complex inner natures in the tiniest accidental ways was profound. As were the levels of empathy, imagination and perception with which he so finely rendered the humanity in those vulnerable, heartbreaking and beautiful creations he gifted the world. He was a kind, lovely man, and a world class artist. I shall miss him greatly.
Adrian Noble, former RSC Artistic Director
There are some actors, a very few, who redefine the art and make us see the world a little
They catalyse our received vision of a text and shift our appreciation of the art form.
They take a blowtorch to our perception of the Shakespearean repertoire, their
performances burn on our imagination and a new understanding arises, Phoenix like.
They are not always comfortable to watch. Certainly not always easy to direct. But hugely
stimulating to their fellow actors and deeply rewarding to their audience.
They are frequently selfish and ruthless in the pursuit of their vision of a character.
They are driven.
They share their spiritual space with demons.
They are possessed by their character, Dionysiac.
But it is we who are the richer. We who are en lightened.
They leave their footprint in the sand, and when the tide retreats, look, it is still there!
They are special.
This was Tony.
Peter Flannery, RSC Associate Artist
I first became aware of Tony fifty years ago when we were both students in Manchester - though I don't think he was aware of me. I remember a shy young man with a blistering acting talent. It was already clear to us all that we were watching someone with rare ability. I got to know him properly about 20 years later when he played the title role in my play Singer which opened in the Swan Theatre in Stratford towards the end of 1989. The way he rehearsed and performed the part simply astonished me and I was so pleased to become a friend. As I write this I am looking at a wonderful crayon portrait Tony made of himself as Peter Singer, now hanging on the wall near my desk. As so many others will do, I feel the loss of Tony Sher very acutely.
Jasper Britton, RSC Associate Artist
For me, Antony Sher and Greg Doran have embodied everything that makes the RSC the RSC.
Their rigour, discipline, vision, imagination, and that something extra, undefinable. The best I can do is this:
If anyone alive could bring the ancient living spirit of Shakespeare to us all, in the present, so vividly, these two magnificent men have done so.
Their combined bond of Love for each other and the Bard has been inspirational and a guiding light.
My only wish is that I’d witnessed the first two married Knights of the Realm.
Some live on after their passing, forever:
Shakespeare and Sher.
Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest, brave, bold, brilliant Sir Antony
Nick Hern, Publisher
Tony is a bit of a wonder. A magnetic actor, of course, but also and equally an artist and author. I should know: I published five books by him, and in every case the vivid words were illuminated by equally vivid sketches. Furthermore, he’s a delight to work with: punctilious, of course, but open to and eager for comment and improvement. If only every author were as receptive!
Harriet Walter, RSC Honorary Associate Artist
I first met Tony early in his career and he seemed to be in a perpetual state of wonderment to have arrived in the theatrical Mecca of London from his native South Africa. I don’t think he ever lost that feeling of surprise even when he became part of the heart of that establishment. I think he always felt like an outsider and his outsider’s vision was his strength.
He had abundant creative energy and protean powers and an almost clinical curiosity about what makes people tick, often using himself as the nearest subject to dissect and applying the same scrupulous observation to himself as he did to the characters he played and the subjects he painted. Whether in his paintings or his book Beside Myself his self-portraits were ruthlessly honest.
On stage he was a powerhouse, bold and uncompromising. Offstage he was surprisingly unassuming, private and unostentatious. He could also be wickedly funny
When I partnered him in Macbeth and Death of a Salesman, I found him almost embarrassingly generous on stage.
I so enjoyed working with him and watching him work and feel so sad that I won’t have that pleasure again.
David Edgar, RSC Honorary Associate Artist
Tony was one of a golden generation of character actors who came up through the fringe theatre of the 70s and burst triumphantly on to the country’s main stages a decade later. I was privileged to be part of that emergence, as Tony played the lead in my play Maydays at the Barbican in 1983. In subsequent years I watched in awe as he marched with breathtaking command through the Shakespeare canon. His descriptions of making his crutched Richard III, his Fat Knight and his Mad King, are object lessons in writing about acting, as well as making a major contribution to the history of the institution to which he gave so much. One of his last performances – poignantly, as a dying Shakespearian actor, in John Kani’s Kunene and the King – witty, physically dazzling, emotionally powerful - was among his very best.
Noma Dumezweni, RSC Associate Artist
Three months after reading ’Year of the King’, Antony Sher’s brilliant memoir on acting, I got to work with him. Could NOT believe my luck!
Luck is about the angels and moments you get to meet in this life. Actually, blessings.
I got called into an audition for Greg Doran - for a play that was already up and running. Finally a call from the RSC after years of hoping and writing letters…Doran was lovely. Didn’t get the gig.
Instead I got a phone call, three months later, to join the final audition for their next production of Macbeth. (Sir) Antony Sher and (Dame) Harriet Walter were playing the happy couple. Greg, directing.
Of course I would. The three of them oversaw the witches group workshop auditions, alongside Polly Kemp and Diane Beck - I got the gig.
Soooooo - to WORK in a place of your dreams. To watch actors be at the top of their skills and still reaching…. as, to put it mildly, a TRIP! I LOVED it ALL - to BE at the RSC in the year of my 30th birthday - BUZZING!
Gift - I got to watch a determined, creatively challenging, shy, humorous artist. Antony was my beginning in what Shakespearean storytelling could be…Elevating, alongside Harriet, what was possible. The end of the dinner party that Banquo ’visits’ was devastating. Both of them emotionally sealed/jailed in the making of their ambition. I would watch from the flys of the Swan Theatre. We created something brilliant. Led by the strong willed, shy, creatively provocative Antony Sher.
He missed a couple of performances when we played at the Long Wharf theatre in the US. His understudy did a terrific job. When Tony returned, it felt like hearing the heart and words truly anew. Just glorious. I told him so after that gig back - and there was a way he said ‘really?’ that made me aware of his vulnerability. You can be a star/lead actor and be riven with insecurity. That was the first time I heard it from him. He had missed being on the stage for those two days - it got him wobbly, emotionally. And I saw that that shy, humorous, creatively specific human, being an artist.
Loved, LOVED that gig. THEN, few years later - I got to be an actor in his first directing gig! Breakfast with Mugabe - by Fraser Grace. Joseph Mydell was Mugabe, I was his wife Grace and David Rintoul was the psychiatrist in this imagining of a period in Mugabe’s elder life. Of course I was going to say yes to Him! Our shared history of being South Africans with vastly different experiences and as creatives navigating our cultural places in the world.
He was PREPARED! And really nervous! He admitted it. I trusted him immediately for that admission. It really was a joy to make him proud of the work we were creating. And my favourite moment was during rehearsals, he told us all our tells/tricks - rude - and so we dug deeper - joyous.
He was a behemoth in my stage acting lifetime. I was grateful that I got to be witness to his artistry.
Dearest Greg. You have both been Blessings in my life.
This too shall pass... Breathe.
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