Robin Phillips, Who Led Stratford Festival in the '70s, Dies at 73 | Playbill

Obituaries Robin Phillips, Who Led Stratford Festival in the '70s, Dies at 73 Robin Phillips, who led Ontario's Stratford Festival in the mid-to-late-1970s, died July 25 just outside of Stratford after a prolonged illness. He was 73.

Mr. Phillips, who was British-born, was the festival’s fourth artistic director. He commanded the troupe from 1975 to 1980 (the organization was then called the Stratford Shakespearean Festival). Among the performers he directed there were Maggie Smith, Jessica Tandy, Peter Ustinov, Richard Monette and Brian Bedford.

Of Phillips’ praised Richard III in 1977, Michael Crabb, writing in Performing Arts in Canada, said, "a morbid, fetid atmosphere lingers over this Richard. Every trace of romantic nostalgia for medievalism has been expunged. Phillips plays Shakespeare straight and in so doing shows that there is much in Richard III that can speak to us today. Political ambition, amoral duplicity, simpering, cowardly sycophancy. We can recognize them—and here they are revealed in all their nastiness."

He staged many of each season’s productions and was known as a perfectionist. That dedication took its toll; he resigned in 1980, citing exhaustion. Many, at the time, credited him with revitalizing the company.

After leaving Stratford, he became artistic director of the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario. He returned to Stratford from 1987 to 1988 to direct the Young Company. And he was director general of the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton from 1990 to 1995. He also helped found Toronto's Soulpepper Theatre Company.

He made one significant contribution to Broadway, directing the 1997 production of Frank Wildhorn’s long-running melodrama Jekyll & Hyde. His one other Broadway credit was Abelard and Heloise, a drama starring Diana Rigg that ran for a few weeks in 1971. In London in 2000, he directed a production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night starring Jessica Lange. He was born in Haslemere, Surrey, England, and trained at the Bristol Old Vic. He began his career as an actor, and had television roles in "The Saint," "The Avengers," "Doctor Who," "The Forsyte Saga" and a 1969 television version of "David Copperfield," in which he played the title role.

"Theatre for me is a vocation," he said during a 2002 CBC television documentary about the festival. "I believe that we do it for reasons other than just to entertain and that if we do it well, we can make a huge difference to people's lives. I think I wanted to startle them into realizing that Stratford was more than this slightly old-fashioned ... velvet costumes twirling around. There was an awful lot of spinning that went on."

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