Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Obituary: Douglas Rain – classical actor and member of the founding company of the Stratford Festival in Ontario

Douglas Rain. Photo: Terry Manzo Douglas Rain. Photo: Terry Manzo

In his native Canada,Douglas Rain was revered as a classical actor of stature, having been a member of the founding company of the Stratford Festival in Ontario, where he returned for 32 seasons throughout his career.

In 1962, he became the first actor to play 10 consecutive seasons in Stratford and was later appointed associate director of the venue’s Avon Theatre in 1974.

To a wider audience, he will be remembered as the disembodied voice of HAL 9000, the superintelligent computer that turns rogue and takes control of a spaceship bound for Jupiter in Stanley Kubrick’s seminal 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (a role he repeated in Peter Hyam’s 1984 sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact).

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Glaswegian immigrant parents, Rain took to acting as a child, appearing regularly on Canadian radio before training at the Banff School of Fine Arts in Alberta.

He continued his studies at the Old Vic Theatre School in London in the early 1950s and made his West End debut in Helen and Harley Granville-Barker’s Dona Clarines at the Irving Theatre in 1952, a performance that The Stage noted as being “excellently alive and full of repressed ardour.”

Returning to Canada the following year, he was in the inaugural company of the Stratford Festival, understudying Alec Guinness as Richard III in his first season, and went on to become one of its principal players.

Douglas Rain as Henry V at Stratford Festival in 1966. Photo: Peter Smith
Douglas Rain as Henry V at Stratford Festival in 1966. Photo: Peter Smith

Early successes included playing Williams alongside Christopher Plummer’s Henry V (also seen at the Edinburgh International Festival) in 1956, a “stiff, snobbish and most hurt” Malvolio (Twelfth Night, 1957), Iago (Othello, 1959), Apemantus (Timon of Athens, which also toured to Chichester Festival Theatre, 1963) and Edgar (King Lear, 1964).

Rain was also an admired Prince Hal, first in Henry IV, Part I (1958), in both parts of the play in 1965 and as the titular Henry V the following year.

Later notable Stratford roles included Macbeth opposite Maggie Smith (1978), the Earl of Gloucester to Peter Ustinov’s King Lear (1980), Shylock (The Merchant of Venice, 1996) and, in his final season at the theatre, Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons in 1998.

In London, he was a “striking, vivid [and] beautifully spoken” Hadrian VII in Peter Luke’s play at the Mermaid (and subsequently Haymarket) Theatre in 1968 and seen with Leonard Rossiter in Morris West’s The Heretic at the Duke of York’s Theatre in 1970. The same year, he played Claudius to Michael York’s Hamlet at the Thorndike Theatre, Leatherhead.

Rain made six appearances on Broadway, the first a short-lived revival of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great in 1956, the last, Robert Bolt’s Vivat! Vivat Regina! which secured him a Tony award nomination as William Cecil in 1972.

Douglas James Rain was born on March 13, 1928, and died on November 11 aged 90.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.