As artistic director of Kneehigh in the decade to 2005 and founder in the same year of the Redruth, Cornwall-based WildWorks, Bill Mitchell pioneered the use of site-specific performances in which landscape and the communities they contained were crucial elements in the shaping and staging of theatre.
His vision reached its peak with The Passion of Port Talbot – a co-production with National Theatre Wales starring Michael Sheen as Jesus; it won Sheen and Mitchell a TMA award in 2011 – and 100: The Day Our World Changed, a dawn-to-dusk commemoration of the Great War produced with the Lost Gardens of Heligan in 2014.
Born in Erith, Kent, after graduating in theatre design from the Wimbledon School of Art, he worked in theatre in education, notably with Key Perspectives and at the Theatre Centre.
After moving to Cornwall in 1988, he developed a productive relationship with Kneehigh, directing Nicke Darke’s community play Ting Tang Mine in 1987. He later designed some of their signature shows during Emma Rice’s tenure as artistic director, including The Red Shoes (2000), Tristan and Yseult (2005) and the adaptation of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s iconic 1946 film, A Matter of Life and Death, at the National Theatre in 2007.
His other work with WildWorks included Souterrain, in seven venues in England and France in 2006-07, The Beautiful Journey – “an incredible experience,” said The Stage – at Plymouth’s Devonport Dockyard (2009), Babel (Caledonian Park, London, 2012) and Wolf’s Child (Norwich and Norfolk Festival, 2015).
In 2010, at the invitation of Kensington Palace, he directed Enchanted Palace, an imaginative theatrical essay in imagined history.
As a freelance designer, he worked with companies as diverse as Avon Touring, Birmingham Rep, Soho Poly, the Donmar Theatre, National Theatre and the Budapest-based Shaman Company.
At the time of his death from cancer he was working on a new staging of Wolf’s Child, scheduled for performances in July at the Trelowarren Estate, Helston in Cornwall.
William John Mitchell was born on December 2, 1951 and died on April 14, aged 65. He his survived by his partner, Sue Hill.