( b. May 02, 1925 London, ENGLAND - d. Nov 19, 2011 Toronto, CANADA ) Male
John Neville, who played Romeo to Claire Bloom’s Juliet, Hamlet to Judi Dench’s Ophelia and Othello to Richard Burton’s Iago (and vice versa), but who may be best known in the United States as the title character in the exuberantly loopy film “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” and a recurring one in the television series “The X-Files,” has died.
His death was announced by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada, where Mr. Neville was the artistic director from 1986 to 1989 and was credited with restoring it to financial and artistic stability.
The British-born son of a truck driver who as a youth spoke with a distinct working-class patois, Mr. Neville was an unlikely candidate to become a Shakespearean matinee idol, but in his early performing years that is exactly what he was. Slender, fluidly athletic and possessed of a voice known for its crisp diction and beautiful modulations, he appeared in the 1950s with London’s Old Vic Company in numerous Shakespearean roles.
In Othello, in 1956, he and Burton alternated as the title character and Iago. That year, the company performed four Shakespeare plays in repertory on a tour of the United States and Canada, with Mr. Neville playing the title roles in Richard II and Romeo and Juliet (opposite Ms. Bloom), Macduff in Macbeth and Thersites in Troilus and Cressida. The next year he played Hamlet, opposite Ms. Dench in her first major role.
He generally commanded superlatives from critics. He made an especially fine impression on Brooks Atkinson, who discovered him when the Old Vic tour opened on Broadway and praised him in more than one review in The New York Times.
“John Neville’s Richard is a brilliant portrait that grows in stature as the King loses authority,” Atkinson wrote on Oct. 24, 1956. He added, on Oct. 25: “As Romeo, Mr. Neville is ideal. He is handsome, lean and sensitive. He moves with unconscious grace. He speaks the verse easily without losing the impetuosity of the character. It is romantic acting that, by taste again, avoids the excesses of gesture, speech and posing.”
John Reginald Neville was born in London on May 2, 1925, attended local schools and served in the Royal Navy in World War II, after which he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He made his professional acting debut as Lysander in an outdoor production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Regent’s Park in London.
Mr. Neville had a varied career on the stage and the screen, appearing in comedies, contemporary dramas and musicals (including “My Fair Lady,” as Henry Higgins) as well as in classical roles. In “Baron Munchausen” (1988), an epic fantasy-adventure and cult hit directed by Terry Gilliam, he played the fabled spinner of wild, self-aggrandizing and highly dubious yarns.
Mr. Neville, who was also a stage director, was the founding director of the Nottingham Playhouse. After moving to Canada in the early 1970s, he was artistic director of the Citadel Theater in Edmonton and the Neptune Theater in Halifax, Nova Scotia, before taking over a wobbly Stratford Festival.
There he used the festival’s four stages to maximum advantage. He presented side-by-side productions of “Hamlet” and Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” and put on flamboyant productions of difficult classics — Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children,” for instance — on the festival’s 2,000-seat main stage.
“If it were not for John Neville coming along marshaling the company, taking extraordinary risks in programming,” said Antoni Cimolino, who was an actor in the company at the time and is now the festival’s general director, “I’m not sure we would be here today.”
Source: The New York Times