John Malcolm

The Stage

John Malcolm, mercurial actor and co-founder of two important theatres, died in Edinburgh on June 14.

Born in Stirling in 1936, he won a scholarship to RADA in 1958. His first acting was at Pitlochry Festival Theatre. Then, during the Edinburgh Festival of 1962, when appearing in a fringe show in the basement of the Paperback Bookshop, he shared discussions with the owner, John Haynes, about a permanent fringe centre for the counter-culture scene. Malcolm was determined that this should be a theatre for new plays and thus in January 1963, after also working with Richard Demarco, the first Traverse Theatre opened. The 60-seat former dosshouse and brothel in the Lawnmarket soon became one of the most important theatres for new writing in Britain.

Malcolm left the Traverse to pursue his acting career, working in repertory at Harrogate before joining the Royal Shakespeare Company for three years, including roles in John Barton’s production of The Wars of the Roses. He also played leads at Liverpool Playhouse, Bristol Old Vic, Newcastle Playhouse and the Royal Court. Later, he played Truscot in Kenneth Williams’ production of Loot at the Lyric Hammersmith, 1980.

It was in a Cotswold town that Malcolm founded his second, equally enduring organisation – The Theatre, Chipping Norton. He established this with wife Tamara (who he had met at the RSC), firstly staging trial pantomimes and music halls in the town hall, in order to raise money for the purchase and conversion of a Salvation Army Citadel. Led by his exceptional hard work as on-site builder and artistic director, the theatre changed the social life of the town and presented the best small-scale touring companies.

He resigned from the management, and his marriage, in 1977. John was an entrepreneurial, farsighted, generous and charismatic theatre builder. He made things happen, although as an actor he boasted of never having worked with the same director twice. He returned to live in Edinburgh in 1994.

Paul Iles

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