Obituary: Katharine Worth

Katharine Worth Katharine Worth

In a long career that embraced both theatre and academia, Katherine Worth could lay claim to being the first female professor of drama in the UK – a position she took with Royal Holloway College in 1978 – as well as being a close collaborator with Samuel Beckett and an acknowledged authority on Irish drama.

Born in Newcastle, she had already embarked on a career in the civil service when her thoughts turned to academia, writing her master’s degree on George Bernard Shaw and her doctorate on Eugene O’Neill. Soon after, she began lecturing in drama and theatre history for the Central School of Speech and Drama and the University of London.

She began a long relationship with Royal Holloway College in 1963, initially lecturing in English literature. Appointed to a Readership in 1974, four years later she led the creation of Royal Holloway’s drama department (the building in which it is housed was named after her in 2014), where she placed an emphasis on the production of plays as the best vehicle for exploring and understanding them.

Her collaboration with Beckett resulted in several productions, including an adaptation of his short story Company. Performed by Julian Curry and directed by Tim Pigott-Smith, it was first seen at the 1987 Edinburgh Festival (where it won a Fringe First award) and later toured to the US, Monaco and Ireland. It was seen in London at the Donmar Warehouse in 1988.

Worth’s many books included admired studies of Oscar Wilde, Goldsmith, Sheridan, Yeats and Maeterlinck, and the agenda-setting Revolutions in Modern English Drama, which was published in 1973. She was also responsible for a number of critical editions of Beckett’s plays and the revealing appraisal Samuel Beckett’s Theatre: Life Journeys (1999).

In her retirement, Worth was co-editor of the Society for Theatre Research’s Theatre Notebook from 1987-97 and served on the boards of many theatre and drama journals. She directed several rehearsed readings of plays that later influenced operas for the Royal Opera company’s extended Verdi Festival (1995-2001).

Katherine Joyce Worth (nee Lorimer) was born on August 4, 1922, and died on January 28, aged 92. She is survived by three children.