PIONEERING former RSC artistic director Michael Boyd has died from cancer at the age of 68.
He oversaw what proved to be a turning point in the company’s history. When he took over as artistic director in the summer of 2002, the ageing Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST)
was about to be demolished and rebuilt.
Knowing the company needed radical change and a more secure financial foundations – the new £113million RST, which opened in 2010, was a key element in his vision.
Boyd looked back to RSC creator Peter Hall’s founding principles in 1961, as well as to his own training in Moscow.
He set about realising a long-standing artistic ambition to create an ensemble of actors working together over two to three years, with long rehearsal periods that allowed for a deeper understanding of the text, and a rigorous programme of daily voice and movement classes to strengthen the ensembles’ individual and collective artistry.
As building work began, the first ensemble opened a temporary theatre, The Courtyard, constructed on the site of The Other Place.
The Courtyard thrived both as a prototype of the new RST as well as a dynamic space in its own right. The eight play Histories Cycle and Matilda The Musical opened there to critical acclaim and sell-out houses.
The Histories won four Olivier awards and was described by Michael Billington in The Guardian as “one of the great moments of modern theatre”, while Boyd championed Matilda from the outset, which continues to play to packed houses across the world.
The Courtyard, and the new RST, also saw a thrust stage replace the more traditional proscenium arch stage, which Boyd said brought every seat, even “the cheap ones”, much closer to the stage, and significantly altered the relationship between actor and audience.
His career took him from training in Moscow to artistic directorships at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, and to the RSC in 1996 after joining as an associate director.
He also oversaw The Complete Works Festival and the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival, which reached an estimated 1.5million people – both testament to this bold international agenda.
He was equally driven by his belief in the power of theatre, especially Shakespeare, to change young people’s lives. The RSC Stand Up for Shakespeare project, under the stewardship of Jacqui O’Hanlon, was of huge importance to him.
He was supported throughout by an equally visionary team , which included stage designer Tom Piper and former RSC executive director Vikki Heywood.
Gregory Doran, who took over from Boyd as artistic director in 2012, spoke of “a quiet unassuming genius.”
He said: “Michael Boyd was a deeply generous collaborator, who unfailingly and without hesitation celebrated and nurtured the “genius” (as he would say) of those creative talents he gathered to the company, ensuring that the RSC was a genuine ensemble.
“He promoted the work of the education department, about which he was passionate, applied his rigour to restoring the financial health of the company with an almost puritanical zeal and brilliantly transformed our stages.”
Knighted in the 2012 Birthday Honours for services to drama, he leaves partner Caroline Hall and children Daniel, Gabriella and Rachael.