UPDATED with Helen Mirren statement, 8:45 AM:: Howard Davies, a highly regarded director known for his work at several of England’s most prominent theatrical venues including the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Old Vic, has died following a battle with cancer. He was 71. Davies staged 36 productions for the National Theatre, which called him, in a statement to the BBC, “one of the very greatest theatre directors of his generation.”
“Howard was one of the pillars of our great theatrical culture, one of those who made our theater admired throughout the world,” Dame Helen Mirren said today. “To witness one of his productions was the culmination of all the great pleasures of theater; thought provoking, exciting, moving and above all great story telling. Although he mined and explored the works he directed, he never let himself come between the playwright and the audience. I had the pleasure and honor to be in two of his productions, one of which I count as the singular most viscerally exciting production I have been a part of. The theater world, and our wider British culture, will miss him terribly.”
Born and raised in Durham, England, Davies’ varied career began in the early 1970s and included extensive work with the Bristol Old Vic and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. For the RSC, he directed the world premiere of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, playwright Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of the pre-revolutionary French epistolary novel by Choderlos de Laclos. That dazzling production starred the late Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan and moved to Broadway in 1987. (A revival of the play, starring Liev Schreiber and British actress Janet McTeer, opens shortly on Broadway.) Earlier, Davies made a splash on Broadway with C.P. Taylor’s Good, starring Alan Howard as a mild-mannered German academic who slowly succumbs to Nazism.
For the National Theatre, Davies’ credits included Hedda Gabler, The House of Bernarda Alba, Pygmalion, The Crucible and The Shaughraun. Davies (pronounced “davis”) directed Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Play About the Baby for the Almeida Theatre. Davies worked twice with Kevin Spacey in productions of plays by Eugene O’Neill that began in London and moved to Broadway: The Iceman Cometh and A Moon for the Misbegotten with Eve Best.
Davies received numerous accolades over his long career, including the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Director for West End theater productions of Iceman, All My Sons and The White Guard. He received the London Critics Circle Award for Best Director for O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra and The Iceman Cometh, and the Evening Standard Award for Best Director for All My Sons and Flight. And in 2011, for his services to drama Davies was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Davies also worked in film and television, directing the BBC telefilm Copenhagen and the BBC Four film Blue/Orange among others. He also helmed the 1993 feature The Secret Rapture, written by David Hare and based on Hare’s 1988 play.
Until his death, Davies had been set to direct a revival of Michael Frayn’s Wild Honey, an adaptation of Chekhov’s Platonov, at Hampstead Theatre in December. The venue said in a statement that the play now would be presented in Davies’ memory.
Davies is survived by his wife, actress Clare Holman.