John Neville, Actor and Director of British and Canadian Stage, Dies at 86

By Kenneth Jones
20 Nov 2011

John Neville in Love's Labour's Lost at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, 1984.
John Neville in Love's Labour's Lost at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, 1984.
Photo by David Cooper

John Neville, the respected British-born actor and director who was artistic director of Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival 1985-89, died in Toronto on Nov. 19, surrounded by family, the festival announced Nov. 20. He was 86.

A private funeral will take place immediately. Plans for a memorial will be announced in the New Year.

Late in his career, Mr. Neville, who received the Order of the British Empire in the 1960s, starred in the motion picture "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen," and he played The Well-Manicured-Man in TV's "The X-Files."

Mr. Neville, however, was a man of theatre first. In the 1950s, he was a major player in the Old Vic company in London. Richard Burton was his contemporary there, and they played the roles of Iago and Othello in rep. He moved to Canada in 1972 and became artistic director of the Citadel Theatre in Alberta.



On his watch at Stratford in the late 1980s, programming for the world-famous Ontario festival founded by Tyrone Guthrie was expanded to include musical theatre beyond Gilbert & Sullivan. The change was controversial at the time, but Broadway musical titles remain a financial boon at Stratford, where several are produced every season, in rep with Shakespeare and other titles of world stage literature. The festival's 2011 revival of Jesus Christ Superstar is moving to Broadway in spring 2012.

Mr. Neville — who cut a dashing, upper-crust figure — played Henry Higgins in Stratford's My Fair Lady and later toured the U.S. in a separate, unrelated commercial production.

Actors Colm Feore, Geraint Wyn Davies and Lucy Peacock came of age in Mr. Neville's time at Stratford.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, Mr. Neville starred in the first season of Sir Laurence Olivier's Chichester Festival in 1962 and played the title role in Coriolanus, directed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie, for the opening of the new Nottingham Playhouse in 1963. His West End credits included The School for Scandal, Once More with Feeling and Irma La Douce. He created the title role in the stage play Alfie.

He was artistic director of the Nottingham Playhouse before he moved to Canada.

Mr. Neville made his Broadway debut with the Old Vic playing four productions in rep: the title role in Richard II, Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Macduff in Macbeth and Thersites in Troilus and Cressida. He later appeared on Broadway in the Old Vic double bill of Twelfth Night (as Aguecheek) and Hamlet (as Hamlet) in late 1958, plus Sherlock Holmes, Ghosts (a Kennedy Center staging in 1982) and Saint Joan (for National Actors Theatre in 1993).

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Actors' Fund of Canada or PAL Toronto. Thoughts of condolence, remembrance and celebration, either written or videoed, can be sent to racheln@canadafilm.com
or 
Rachel Neville Fox
Noble Caplan Abrams
1260 Yonge Street, 2nd Floor 
Toronto, Ontario
M4T 1W6.