If anyone working in British theatre over the past half-century could claim to have been a renaissance man, it was surely Patrick Garland, whose multifaceted life included spells as a poet, novelist, editor, actor, television producer, director and interviewer. Most notably, he was one of the most accomplished stage directors of his generation.
While reading English at Oxford University he showed equal promise in poetry – his work was published in the London Magazine and in annual anthologies – and theatre, finding himself playing Henry V and elected president of the student dramatic society.
On graduating, he spent two seasons as an actor at the Bristol Old Vic, and appeared in 14 episodes of the BBC’s pioneering television cycle of Shakespeare’s history plays, An Age of Kings, in 1960 – the same year he was invited by Peter Hall to become the Royal Shakespeare Company’s director of poetry at Stratford. He made his West End debut in JB at the Phoenix Theatre in 1961.
The following year, Garland joined the BBC’s music and arts department to work on the influential documentary programme Monitor. Over the next 12 years, he produced, wrote and directed profiles of John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Noel Coward, Ninette de Valois, Marcel Marceau and many other leading literary figures.
His first television credit as a writer was a 1961 episode of The Younger Generation. His first full-length script, Flow Gently, Sweet Afton, followed within a year. In 1963, together with Ted Hughes and Charles Osborne, he formed the Poetry International Foundation.
In 1966, he produced Alan Bennett’s television comedy On the Margin, and two years later directed the writer’s first full-length play, Forty Years On, with John Gielgud, at the Apollo Theatre. Later, a 1984 revival of the play with Paul Eddington during his first tenure as artistic director at the Chichester Festival would transfer to the Queen’s Theatre.
Garland quickly found himself in demand, and went on to direct Roy Dotrice in Brief Lives at the Hampstead Theatre and on Broadway in 1967 (reviving it at the Criterion Theatre in 1969, and again in 1988 with Michael Williams at the Duchess Theatre), Cyrano (National Theatre, 1970), the musical Billy (Palace Theatre Manchester and Theatre Royal Drury Lane, 1974), Bennett’s Getting On (Queen’s Theatre, 1971), A Doll’s House (London and Broadway, 1975), An Enemy of the People (Chichester, 1975), Coward’s Feydeau adaptation Look After Lulu! (Haymarket, 1978), his own version of Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree (Salisbury Playhouse and later at the Vaudeville Theatre, 1978) and a revival of Pickwick (Chichester, 1993).
Garland remains the only director to have been responsible for four shows simultaneously running in the West End.
In 1980 he took up the reins in Chichester, staying until 1984 and returning again from 1991-94, where he led the campaign to build a second venue for the festival, the Minerva Theatre. It was in Chichester that he had first directed Rex Harrison, in Monsieur Perrichon’s Travels in 1976, a partnership that continued with a 1980 touring revival of My Fair Lady in the US that transferred to Broadway the following year. In 1998, he published a well-received memoir about working with the Hollywood star, entitled The Incomparable Rex.
A consistent thread throughout his theatre career was the one-man play, notable among which were Make the Little Beggars Hop, with Timothy West as the conductor Thomas Beecham (Salisbury, 1979); Alec McCowen as Kipling (Mermaid Theatre and Broadway, 1984); Eileen Atkins as Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own (Hampstead Theatre, transferring to the Playhouse, 1989, and to Broadway in 1991), a role Atkins carried over to Vita and Virginia alongside Penelope Wilton (Chichester Minerva and Ambassadors, 1992); Patricia Routledge as the author Beatrix in Potter, which Garland co-wrote (Chichester Minerva, 1996); and Peter Ackroyd’s The Mystery of Charles Dickens with Simon Callow (Albery Theatre, Broadway and Australia, 2000).
Garland’s television credits as director included the Golden Globe-winning The Snow Goose (1971). On film, he directed Claire Bloom and Anthony Hopkins in A Doll’s House (1973), while opera productions included Don Giovanni and, in Japan, Handel’s Ottone.
Prominent gala performances also featured, including celebrations of the Queen’s 60th birthday at the Royal Opera House and the broadcaster Richard Dimbleby at Westminster Abbey (both 1986). He also presented and produced What Will Survive of Us is Love for Granada Television to mark Laurence Olivier’s 80th birthday (1987).
Patrick Garland was born on April 10, 1935, and died 10 days after his 78th birthday, after a long illness, on April 20. He is survived by his actress wife Alexandra Bastedo.