Entertainer Actor John Normington Dies, Aged 70Date: 30 July 2007
UPDATED, Mon 30 Jul 2007 @ 2.15pm: Further tributes from Kevin Spacey & Michael Boyd have now been added to this story. Updates are shown in bold below.
A gifted supporting actor, Normington was last seen on stage earlier this year playing Billy Rice (pictured), father to Robert Lindsay’s Archie Rice in Sean Holmes’ 50th anniversary revival of John Osborne’s The Entertainer at the Old Vic. He opened in March to wide critical acclaim but had to withdraw from the production a month later as his health declined (See News, 13 Apr 2007).
Born in Dukinfield, Cheshire near Manchester on 28 January 1937, Normington attended the Northern School of Music and was mentored by David Scase of Manchester’s Library Theatre. He made his stage debut in a 1950 production of The Happiest Days of Your Life at Oldham Rep.
His big career break came the following decade when he joined artistic director Peter Hall at the then still fledgling Royal Shakespeare Company, where he was an associate artist from 1962 to 1966. During that time, Normington’s notable credits included Hall’s renowned staging of The Wars of the Roses (1963), Henry IV and Henry V in which he was Bardolph (1964/65), and the 1965 premiere of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming in which he played Sam, a part he took to Broadway in 1967 and returned to in Hall’s 1990 West End revival.
Nearly 30 years after his first RSC heyday, Normington returned to Stratford, first under the helm of Adrian Noble and then under current artistic director Michael Boyd, for productions of King Lear (with Robert Stephens), Ghosts, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Talk of the City, Romeo and Juliet, Midwinter and, finally, King Lear again, in which he was the Fool to Corin Redgrave’s deposed monarch.
Normington appeared in more than 20 RSC productions in total, a tally he nearly matched at the National Theatre over the years. He was first lured to the South Bank in the late 1970s, when Peter Hall had moved camps to preside there. Amongst the actor’s most noteworthy NT productions in the Seventies and Eighties were Hall’s premiere of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus (1979), Michael Bodganov’s premiere of Howard Brenton’s controversial The Romans in Britain (1980), Richard Eyre’s revival of Guys and Dolls (1982) and Hall’s adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1984).
More recently, Normington appeared at the National in The Winter’s Tale, The Good Hope, The Associate, Scenes from the Big Picture and last year’s Peter Gill revival of Granville Barker’s The Voysey Inheritance.
NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner paid tribute to Normington today, saying: “I can’t think of anyone who was more loved and admired at the National than John. We’ve all lost count of the number of shows he did here – and he brought to all of them warmth, wit and an absolute dedication to the truth. He was a superb actor – one of those whose talent and skill make the English theatre pre-eminent. And he was a marvellous man.”
Normington’s many other stage credits included: Twelfth Night, The Houses by the Green, Revenge, Taking Stock, The Fool and Misalliance at the Royal Court; The Rules of the Game at the Almeida; Comings and Goings at Hampstead; German Skerries at the Bush; and Original Sin at Sheffield Crucible.
He was also a familiar face on screen. His many TV appearances include Casualty, Midsomer Murders, Love in a Cold Climate, Longitude, Coronation Street, Peak Practice, David Copperfield, The New Statesman, Doctor Who, Yes Prime Minister, Inspector Morse, My Family and Other Animals, Sakharov, Life of Shakespeare, Upstairs Downstairs, Portrait in Evil, Deceptions, Jack the Ripper and Bliss. On film, he was seen in Inadmissible Evidence, The Reckoning, Stardust, Rollerball, The Thirty-Nine Steps, The Medusa Touch, A Private Function and Wit.
Belinda Wright of Caroline Dawson Associates, Normington’s agent for the past seven years, said today: “John was a wonderful actor and a lovely man. It was a privilege to represent him.” Normington is survived by two sisters – Judith Chilton and Lesley Normington – and his partner, wig maker John Anderson.
Kevin Spacey, artistic director of the Old Vic, said today: “John Normington was a remarkable talent and all of us at the Old Vic are deeply saddened by his passing. We were fortunate to have John in the company of The Entertainer, where so many audiences had the chance to see his extraordinary performance as Archie Rice's father. John brought a wide range of experience to his characters throughout a diverse and successful career that touched the lives of all who worked with him. We were honoured to have enjoyed John’s company for as long as we had him. His spirit and influence remained throughout and now that same spirit joins the other great actors who have played the Old Vic stage, where he will always be remembered with admiration and affection. They don't make them like him anymore. We send our love and condolences to John’s partner, family and friends.”
- by Terri Paddock
NOTE: Please feel free to add your own tributes to and memories of John Normington on the Whatsonstage.com Discussion Forum.