Howard Davies, British Theater Director, Dies at 71
by Anita Gates, . New York Times 10/27/2016
Howard Davies, a British theater director whose work with the National Theater, the Old Vic and other institutions earned him a reputation for quality and depth as well as three Laurence Olivier Awards -- London theater's equivalent of the Tonys -- died on Tuesday. He was 71.
The cause was cancer, his family said in a statement. It did not say where he died.
Mr. Davies also directed nine productions on Broadway, including "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" (1987), starring Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan, as well as revivals of Tennessee Williams's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1990), with Kathleen Turner and Charles Durning, and two Eugene O'Neill plays, "The Iceman Cometh" (1999) and "A Moon for the Misbegotten" (2007), both starring Kevin Spacey.
He was a founder of the Royal Shakespeare Theater's Warehouse, which became Donmar Warehouse, the pioneering nonprofit theater in Covent Garden.
His Olivier Awards were for "The Iceman Cometh" (the same production that appeared in New York); Arthur Miller's "All My Sons," with Julie Walters; and Mikhail Bulgakov's "The White Guard," with Conleth Hill.
Asked by an interviewer for theatrevoice.com in 2010 why he had chosen to do yet another Russian play -- "The White Guard" was his third in recent years -- Mr. Davies began his answer with a little background:
"I had fallen in love with American drama at one point, because I thought that American drama of the late '30s, '40s and 1950s was much more social and political than the plays coming out of England."
The British works, he said, "seemed to be neurotic and self-obsessed and usually to do with four young people in a room expressing their angst."
American drama dealt with larger subjects, he said, "admittedly through the family -- but the family was the model for American society." And, he added, Russian plays "have the same scale, and the same social commitment" and are about "people trying to carve their way through the complexities" of society.
When he worked in the United States, however, Mr. Davies's projects were more global. Of the nine Broadway productions he directed, between 1981 and 2007, only three could qualify as pure American drama. The others included Noël Coward's "Private Lives" (2002), which won the Tony for best revival of a play, and Pam Gems's "Piaf" (1981), for which Jane Lapotaire won a best actress Tony. Mr. Davies received three Tony nominations for directing but never won.
Lerner and Loewe's "My Fair Lady" was pretty much American, but it was a musical. And, Mr. Davies told The Guardian in 2010, doing the 1993 Broadway revival of it, starring Richard Chamberlain and Melissa Errico, was his greatest professional regret.
Mr. Davies had wanted a darker version of the musical, presenting Henry Higgins's efforts to groom the Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle as social engineering. But the production's more commercially minded authorities ultimately squelched that idea.
Mr. Davies told The New York Times, "It's not what I would have put up there," referring to the final version, and The Times's chief theater critic, David Richards, described the show as "trying to have its crumpets and eat them too."
Stephen Howard Davies was born on April 26, 1945, in Durham, England, south of Newcastle, the son of Thomas Emrys Davies, a miner, and the former Hilda Bevan. He attended Durham University and the University of Bristol and worked in the 1970s at the Bristol Old Vic before doing freelance theater work and then joining the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Mr. Davies also wrote television plays, including an adaptation of Michael Frayn's "Copenhagen," and directed opera. He was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2011.
His survivors include his wife, the actress Clare Holman, and two daughters, Hannah Clare and Katherine Sian, from his first marriage, to Susan Wall. His last National Theater production was Sean O'Casey's "The Plough and the Stars" (2016).
In 2010, Mr. Davies told The Guardian that another regret was "not staying in America after the success of 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses' on Broadway."
"Alan Rickman had decided to stay on to develop a film career," he said, "but I was cowardly and ran back home."
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