Chahine Yavroyan, who has died of cancer aged 68, was known most recently as a talented lighting designer who worked with many leading theatre companies and creatives, but made his mark as a core member of the People Show.
Born in Cairo, Yavroyan’s parents were of Armenian heritage, having fled Turkey during the Armenian Genocide. His father left Egypt for Beirut, because of the political situation, when Chahine was five, visiting clandestinely once a year and eventually raising enough money to smuggle his then nine-year-old son, wife and grandmother to Beirut. During his time in Lebanon, Yavroyan became interested in youth theatre. When he was 18 he went to Bristol to study stage management.
The family’s forced travels left Yavroyan with a strong international outlook. Although he arrived in Bristol with only schoolboy English, he became fluent in Armenian, Arabic, English, French and Italian.
Chahine did not finish his course at Bristol, however, but went to London to Ovalhouse, where he became part of the group of young fringe theatremakers, including stage managing for Steven Berkoff. A gifted piano player, who loved music, he went on to get a job as sound technician at the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
There he encountered the People Show, the director-less collective formed by Mark Long. Quickly becoming a core member, initially working on sound and light, he went on to perform and play piano for many People Shows. He was one of only two members to have a people show all about him, 2005’s People Show Number 114: The Obituary Show.
During the 1980s Yavroyan spent several years with the People Show in Bologna, designing lighting for the city’s outdoor events, which provided a sculptural aspect to his later lighting work. He was so highly regarded that he was awarded the freedom of the city.
In the 1990s, Yavroyan worked mainly in contemporary dance, another aspect that effected his later theatre work. While working with designer Simon Vincenzi at the Royal Court, he met his future partner, the theatre director Roxana Silbert.
The couple reconnected while working in Scotland and many of Chahine’s later lighting successes were with Scottish-based companies, including collaborations with Philip Howard, John Tiffany and Anthony Neilson. He lit Tiffany’s production of Let the Right One In for the National Theatre of Scotland.
Chahine was known for his sartorial elegance, which was very much a legacy of his youth, according to Silbert, with the appearance of a well-presented Middle Eastern man-about-town.
Diagnosed with cancer on his birthday in 2017, he became disease free with the help of immunotherapy drugs until the end of the year. When the cancer returned at the beginning of this year, he continued working, with his final credit the conceptual work on Ian Rankin’s Rebus: Long Shadows.
Chahine Yavroyan was born on February 17, 1950 and died on September 3.