Obituary: Geoffrey Brawn – ‘Champion of music hall and stalwart of the Players’ Theatre’
Launched by Peter Ridgeway and Leonard Sachs, the Players’ Theatre unabashedly championed music hall and live variety performances at its Villiers Street venue in London’s Westminster. A vital component of its success was Geoffrey Brawn, a company stalwart for four decades as accompanist and musical director.
Born in Kendal, Cumbria, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music and first caught the limelight on television in Before the Fringe, a 1967 series celebrating variety before the Oxbridge satire boom.
The following year Brawn made his debut on the BBC’s music hall series The Good Old Days (memorably hosted by Sachs) to which he returned many times. From 1981-83, he served as musical associate for the programme.
The Players’ Theatre was also one of the locations for the documentary film A Little of What You Fancy, a history of the music hall from 1854 to 1968 featuring Brawn, Barry Cryer and a host of variety performers.
As musical director, Brawn was central to shaping the company’s creative ethos and contributed to many of its successes, including Ron Pember and Denis de Marne’s Jack the Ripper, which transferred to the Ambassadors Theatre in 1974.
Other theatre work included his own musical, At the Sign of the Angel, with book and lyrics by Dudley Stevens. A whimsical tale of Elizabethan actors distilling the two parts of Shakespeare’s Henry IV in the provinces, it was staged at the Players’ Theatre in 1975.
Significant among later Players’ productions were the 1994 revival of Sandy Wilson’s The Boy Friend and Brawn’s own adaptations – which he also directed – of a number of Victorian pantomimes included The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood (1995) and King Charming, or the Bluebird of Paradise (2000).
Brawn was a co-director of the Players’ Theatre in 2002 after mis-management by the actor Dominic Le Foe resulted in a High Court case and temporary collapse of the venue.
In later years, he was accompanist to Sheila Matthews, with whom he had appeared as music director of Stage Door Johnnies, a BBC Radio 4 series devised by Gerald Frow in 1977.
A collision with a cyclist brought his career to a sudden end in 2013.
Geoffrey Christopher Brawn was born on January 31, 1935 and died on May 13, aged 83.