Obituary: Brian Kirk – ‘one of the most respected producers and company managers of his generation’
Brian Kirk’s first theatre job, as a novice flyman at London’s Palace Theatre in 1968 working on David Heneker’s Stanley Baxter-starring musical Phil the Fluter, gave little hint of his rise through the ranks to become one of the most respected producers and company managers of his generation.
In a near 50-year career, he moved through stage and tour management roles and served as occasional lighting designer before moving into producing and general management, ending his career in 2016 after a much admired 17-year stint as general manager of Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.
His first encounter with the Yvonne Arnaud came when he served as general manager of its 1985 tour of Cuckoo, written and directed by Emlyn Williams. Working with artistic director James Barber (who died in December 2017), he helped transform the theatre’s fortunes, playing a leading part in attracting marquee names such as Michael Gambon, Antony Sher and Patricia Routledge to Guildford, collaborating with independent producers and staging the premiere of David Seidler’s stage adaptation of his film The King’s Speech in 2012, subsequently seen at the Wyndham’s Theatre.
Born Brian Walker in Tunbridge Wells and raised in Eltham, south-east London, early jobs included being a market barrow boy, trainee commis waiter at the Connaught Hotel and a bookmaker’s runner before finding his way into theatre, whereupon he changed his surname. He worked as a prop man at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, in stage management at Rhyl’s Little Theatre, Bolton Octagon, the Hampstead Theatre and for a three-year period on various West End shows for Bernard Delfont.
While branching out into nightclubs and revues, his theatre profile grew with spells working at the Old Vic, for Cameron Mackintosh and at Theatre Royal Stratford East as company and stage manager. Moving between the West End, Royal Court and Old Vic, he had a brief spell in television before taking on tour management for American singing star Sarah Vaughan and becoming project and general manager for Mark McCormack’s nascent IMG conglomerate in 1979.
For the British Council, he managed the London Shakespeare Company’s Scandinavian tour of The Merchant of Venice in 1981, the following year’s African tour and its nine-country tour in the Far East of Twelfth Night in 1983, for both of which he also provided lighting designs.
As general manager of Michael Redington’s production company, he oversaw the premiere of Helene Hanff’s 48 Charing Cross Road (Ambassador’s Theatre, 1981), Hugh Whitemore’s Pack of Lies (Lyric Theatre, 1983) and Keith Waterhouse’s Mr and Mrs Nobody (Garrick Theatre, 1986) – both with Judi Dench and Michael Williams – and Whitemore’s The Best of Friends with John Gielgud (Apollo Theatre, 1988).
Other memorable West End shows he worked on included Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ (Wyndham’s Theatre, 1984), Whitemore’s Breaking the Code, starring Derek Jacobi (Haymarket Theatre, 1986), Waterhouse’s Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell, with Peter O’Toole as the titular tipsy columnist (Apollo Theatre, 1989) and Clarke Peters’ Five Guys Named Moe (Lyric Theatre, 1991).
For the Royal Shakespeare Company, he was general manager of the musical adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie at Stratford and its Broadway run in 1987-88.
With his own company, he co-produced James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner (Lyric Theatre, 1987), John Logan’s Never the Sinner (Playhouse Theatre, 1990) and Philip Dearborn’s Over My Dead Body (Savoy Theatre, 1991) – all with Clare Fox. As general manager of the Ambassador Theatre Group in the late 1990s, he oversaw the national tour of Simon Gray’s The Late Middle Classes, directed by Harold Pinter, and Simon Callow’s 1999 revival of The Pajama Game at the Victoria Palace Theatre and in Toronto.
Brian Kirk was born on May 5, 1952, and died on November 3 at the age of 66. He is survived by his wife, the actor Amanda Drewry, and their two sons, Hal and Edgar.
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