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John Neville Memorial Set for 7/15

A celebration of the life of John Neville will be held in Stratford next month. Mr. Neville, who was Artistic Director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival from 1986 to 1989, died on November 19. He was 86.

DATE: Sunday, July 15, 2012

TIME: 10:30 a.m.

PLACE: Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford, Ontario 

Mr. Neville’s life and career will be remembered by family and colleagues, including Brent Carver, Antoni Cimolino, Ted Dykstra, Des McAnuff, Sheila McCarthy, Richard Ouzounian and Lucy Peacock.

A much-beloved leader and fellow player, Mr. Neville will be greatly missed by the Festival family and remembered as man of great warmth, strength and inspiration.

John Neville was a superb actor, an outstanding director and a terrific artistic leader of our Festival,” says Artistic Director Des McAnuff. “Among his other achievements, he contributed significantly to our exploration of modern repertoire alongside the classics. His charisma and charm were matched by the generosity of his spirit, and I have always been immensely grateful for the phenomenal support he extended to me, as he did to so many others. We are all in his debt, and we feel his loss deep in our hearts.”

John Neville’s brave programming and careful stewardship helped save the Festival at a time of extreme financial hardship,” says General Director Antoni Cimolino. “Despite his passing, his light will continue to burn bright at the Festival in the hearts of the many talents he encouraged and nourished. John asked me to join his company in 1988 in Richard III and All’s Well That Ends Well – the Shakespeare plays that began the Festival in 1953 – and T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. Those plays were the hallmark of his artistic programming – intelligent, challenging, theatrical and respectful of tradition. In the U.K. he was a celebrated actor, perhaps one of the best of his generation, but he left all of that to come to Canada and lead several of this country’s finest theatres, culminating in his Artistic Directorship of the Stratford Festival.”

Mr. Neville joined the Festival company in 1983 to play Don Armado in Love’s Labour’s Lost and Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing. The following year he reprised the role of Don Armado and also took on the roles of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice – with Colm Feore, Richard Monette, Domini Blythe and Seana McKenna – and Major Pollack and Mr. Malcolm in Separate Tables, a production which toured to Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre. In 1985, he focused on his transition to Artistic Director, planning the 1986 season, when he would direct his first Stratford production, Hamlet, with Brent Carver in the title role. During his tenure he served as both a director and performer, playing Anton Chekov in Intimate Admiration and Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady – both opposite his favourite leading lady, Lucy Peacock – and directing Othello and Three Sisters.

He was responsible for bringing a number of actors into the company, including Antoni Cimolino, Juan Chioran, Eric McCormack and Geraint Wyn Davies, and fostering the careers of a great many others, including Keith Dinicol, Colm Feore, Richard Monette, Lucy Peacock, Goldie Semple and Susan Wright. He also employed more Canadian designers and directors than had been the case prior to his tenure.

Mr. Neville was a man of enormous generosity, who felt it was important to heal old wounds and welcome artists back into the Festival fold. Under his tenure, he hired his predecessors Michael Langham, Jean Gascon and Robin Phillips to direct, as well as his successors, David William and Richard Monette. In fact, it was Mr. Neville who gave Mr. Monette his first major directing assignment, The Taming of the Shrew on the Festival stage.

Though born in England, where he had an illustrious career, Mr. Neville was a champion of the theatre in his adopted homeland. He immigrated to Canada in 1972, first directing The Rivals at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. He then served as Artistic Director of Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre from 1973 to 1978 and of Halifax’s Neptune Theatre from 1978 to 1983.

Remembered primarily as a man of the theatre, Mr. Neville acted extensively in the U.K., on Broadway and in Canada. He was deeply involved with The Old Vic Theatre, where in one production he alternated the roles of Othello and Iago with his friend Richard Burton. One of the most handsome and accomplished young actors of his day, Mr. Neville, appeared in numerous West End productions and created the memorable title role in the stage play Alfie. He was a leading actor in the first season of the Chichester Festival, under the artistic direction of Laurence Olivier, and was the founding artistic director of the Nottingham Playhouse, where, in its inaugural season, he played the title role in Coriolanus, directed by Tyrone Guthrie.

He had almost a hundred film and television credits dating back as far as 1950, but perhaps his greatest fame on the screen came in the latter part of his life. He was in his mid-60s when he was cast in the title role of the Terry Gilliam film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which became a cult hit, and in the 1990s he had a recurring role – the Well-Manicured Man – in the popular TV series The X Files, which he reprised in The X Files film. More recently he was featured in Trudeau, with Colm Feore, Crime and Punishment, with Vanessa Redgrave, Crispin Glover, John Hurt and Margot Kidder, and the David Cronenberg thriller Spider. He was also a regular on such series as Grand, Amazon and Emily of New Moon, with appearances on numerous other shows including Star Trek: The Next Generation and Queer as Folk.

Mr. Neville was a member of the Order of the British Empire and the Order of Canada.

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Caroline, and by his children Sarah Neville (John Dungey), Matthew Neville (Joy Cheskes), Stephen Neville (Aneesha), Emma Dinicol (Keith), Rachel Neville Fox and Thomas Neville, and six grandchildren.

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