John Barton, Co-Founder of Royal Shakespeare Company, Dies at 89

Obituaries   John Barton, Co-Founder of Royal Shakespeare Company, Dies at 89
The renowned British director passed away in London January 18.
John Barton
John Barton Royal Shakespeare Company

Famed British director John Barton, co-founder of the U.K.'s Royal Shakespeare Company, has died at the age of 89. Current RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran shared a personal statement January 18, in which he praised Barton as “one of the greatest influences in the acting of Shakespeare of the last century.”

Barton co-founded RSC in 1960 with Sir Peter Hall and continued to work with the company for the remainder of his life. Heralded as “the Shakespeare swami” by the likes of Peter O'Toole, Ian McKellan, and Judy Dench, the director was renowned for his ability to interpret the words of the Bard with passion and clarity.

Among his most memorable Shakespeare productions are the 1969 Twelfth Night with Judi Dench as Viola and Donald Sinden as Malvolio, Love’s Labour’s Lost in 1978 with Michael Pennington as Berowne and Jane Lapotaire as Rosaline, and The Merchant of Venice—first with Patrick Stewart as Shylock at The Other Place in 1978, and then David Suchet in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1981.

As well as Shakespeare, Barton directed a number of classics: Ibsen’s The Pillars of The Community with Dench and McKellen in 1977, Congreve’s The Way of the World with Beryl Reid as Lady Wishfort in 1978, Chekhov’s The Three Sisters in 1988 with Harriet Walter as Masha and Brian Cox as Vershinin, and Harley Granville Barker’s Waste—again with Dench in 1995.

He also conceived, staged, and performed in the anthology revue The Hollow Crown, which was first presented in London in 1961. A 1963 incarnation in New York marked his sole Broadway credit.

Barton was featured in the 2002 documentary The Shakespeare Sessions, in which he traveled to America with Hall to work with American actors on Shakespeare. In the film, broadcast on PBS, the two directors worked with Kevin Kline, Dustin Hoffman, David Hyde Pierce, Cynthia Nixon, Liev Schreiber, and Charles S. Dutton, among others.

Barton is survived by his sister Jennifer. His wife Anne passed away aged 80 in 2013.