Director Michael Blakemore Dies at 95 | Playbill

Obituaries Director Michael Blakemore Dies at 95

The multiple Tony winner was responsible for the 1999 revival of Kiss Me, Kate that modernized the classic for a new generation.

Michael Blakemore, the Tony Award-winning stage director, has died following a brief illness. He was 95.

Born to Conrad Howell Blakemore and Una Mary Litchfield of Sydney, Australia, Mr. Blakemore initially studied medicine before entering the theatrical arena as a press agent for Robert Morley in 1949. At Morley's suggestion, Mr. Blakemore then traveled to London, where he trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He worked as an actor for 12 years, making his professional debut at the Theatre Royal and working for the Birmingham Repertory Company, Stratford's Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, and Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, but by the mid 1960's, he had shifted his focus to directing.

Beginning with the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, Mr. Blakemore directed The Investigation, Little Malcolm, Stephen D, and Nightmare Abbey in 1966, and The Strange Case of Martin Richter, The Visions of Simone Machard, A Choice of Wars, and Rosmersholm in 1967. Proving to be immensely popular among artists and audiences alike, Mr. Blakemore became the co-artistic director of the Citizens Theatre in 1968, with his production of Peter Nichols' A Day in the Death of Joe Egg proving to have international legs, transferring first to London before arriving on Broadway in 1968, where Mr. Blakemore earned his first Tony nomination.

In 1969, fresh off the success of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Mr. Blakemore joined London's National Theatre to direct Nichols' The National Health. This association later led him to form an artistic relationship with National Theatre Artistic Director Laurence Olivier, with Mr. Blakemore directing Olivier in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night

In 1970, as Olivier began to lay out his intended plan of succession, he invited Mr. Blakemore to become one of two associate directors for the company, positioning him to eventually graduate into the role of artistic director upon Olivier's retirement. When the day came in 1973, however, the Board of the National Theatre appointed Peter Hall without consulting Olivier. 

Mr. Blakemore and Hall had been rivals for decades since appearing in the Royal Shakespeare Company's 1959 season together, where both had vied for the affections of actor Vanessa Redgrave. Angered by the situation, Mr. Blakemore opted to dramatize his and Hall's rivalry within a formal manifesto, which led to Mr. Blakemore being forced to resign when his salary was stopped without warning or explanation.

Unperturbed, Mr. Blakemore shifted his focus to the Royal Shakespeare Company, again directing a piece of Nichols', this time Privates on Parade. In the ensuing decade, he became the resident director of the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, where he developed an extensive association with the playwright Michael Frayn, fostering the development of his plays Make and Break, Benefactorsand the wildly successful Noises Off, as well as Frayn's translation of Uncle Vanya. In all, the pair collaborated on 18 productions.

In 1980, Mr. Blakemore was again passed over for the artistic director position at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, with Mr. Blakemore returning to the National Theatre with Frayn to direct the play Copenhagen. A near immediate success, the production transferred to the West End, further strengthening his profile on the commercial circuit.

On the West End, Mr. Blakemore directed Noël Coward's Design for Living starring Vanessa Redgrave, David Hare's Knuckle, and Arthur Miller's The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, before turning his sights on New York, making a notable Broadway splash throughout the 1990's as the director of City of AngelsPeter Shaffer's Lettice and Lovage starring Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack, The Life, and, finally, the 1999 revival of Kiss Me, Kate.

Mr. Blakemore's Kiss Me, Kate was a runaway success, redefining the classic musical for a new generation. That same season, Mr. Blakemore's production of Frayn's Copenhagen transferred to Broadway, leading Mr. Blakemore to be the only director in Tony Awards history to win both Best Direction of a Play and Best Direction of a Musical in the same season.

Following his tour de force run at the end of the century, Mr. Blakemore continued to work with his preferred collaborators, bringing Ember by Christopher Hampton to the Duke of York's Theatre in London in 2006, and a handful of final productions to Broadway, including Deuce by Terrence McNally and Blithe Spirit, both of which starred his beloved Angela Lansbury. In 2007, he brought Mark Twain's never-before-produced comic play Is He Dead? to Broadway.

Mr. Blakemore's final productions involved him returning to favorite pieces of his career history, including the 2017 London premiere of The Life starring Sharon D Clarke, and later that same year, a revival of Copenhagen for the Chichester Festival Theatre. In his later life, Mr. Blakemore wrote a novel, Next Season, and two memoirs. 

Mr. Blakemore is survived by his second wife, Tanya McCallin, from whom he was separated; his three children, Conrad, Beatie, and Clemmie; and three grandchildren. 

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