We are saddened to learn via Dr. Graham Russell of the passing of James Roose-Evans at the age of 94, former pupil, theatre director, founder of the Hampstead Theatre Club in London, writer of children’s books and books about ritual and meditation, and an ordained priest of the Church of England.
James Roose-Evans, the theatre director, who has died aged 94, founded the Hampstead Theatre Club in London, wrote children’s books and books about ritual and meditation, and was an ordained priest of the Church of England.
Widely regarded as one of Britain’s most original theatre directors and teachers of drama, Roose-Evans directed numerous West End hits, including Under Milk Wood, Cider with Rosie, Private Lives, The Happy Apple, An Ideal Husband, The Seven Year Itch, and Mate, a Personal Affair.
He adapted Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road into a multi-award-winning stage play, and the letters of Joyce Grenfell into Re: Joyce, a one-woman show starring Maureen Lipman. In 1988 he directed an adaptation of Hugh Whitemore’s drama Best of Friends in what proved to be John Gielgud’s final stage appearance.
Roose-Evans founded the Hampstead Theatre Club in an old scout hut in Hampstead Village in 1959. In January 1960 a double bill by Harold Pinter, The Dumb Waiter and The Room, won a rave review from Harold Hobson in The Sunday Times, though it left the Telegraph’s veteran critic WA Darlington unable to speculate on “what either play was intended to convey”.
None the less it put the theatre on the cultural map, and in 1962 Roose-Evans moved it to a site in Swiss Cottage, establishing a 174-seat home as a stop-gap until a proper theatre was built in 2003. By then the Hampstead Theatre had become one of the great crucibles of new English drama, often anticipating the West End, which it regularly fed.
Mike Leigh’s first play, Abigail’s Party, was first performed there in 1977 and was snapped up by the BBC; Pinter’s Hothouse premiered at the Hampstead Theatre in 1980, having been turned down by West End producers as too political; Dennis Potter’s only stage play, Sufficient Carbohydrate, ran in 1983 with Rupert Graves and Dinsdale Landen.
And it was at the Hampstead Theatre that talents such as Jude Law, Ewan McGregor, Rufus Sewell and Dougray Scott first spoke their lines on the professional stage.
The younger of two sons, James Humphrey Roose-Evans was born in London on November 11 1927. His father, Jack, a commercial traveller dealing in ladies’ gowns, was a bully and drunkard who terrorised his family. “One Friday night, when I was seven, my mother and I saw him coming down the street, drunk out of his mind, and we were so frightened that we hid in a wardrobe and shut the door. My father came in shouting, ‘Primrose, Primrose . . .’ and making threats and swearing. Finally, he made himself a meal, fell fast asleep, and when we could hear him snoring, we crept out.”
The family were often on the move and, as a result, James attended many schools. One evening, when her husband was away on business, James’s mother packed up all the furniture and, with the help of a friendly local farmer, loaded it on to a wagon, leaving her husband a note to say that she and her younger son had gone.
While she looked for somewhere to live, she sent James to lodge with the parents of Mary Pollard, a young woman who had befriended the boy on the bus which took him to school from his home in the Forest of Dean.
The two years he spent with the Pollards changed his life. “It was the first sane, emotionally secure family I had been with, and I rose to be top of the form and eventually won a scholarship to Oxford.” From time to time, his mother met him in Gloucester, where he attended the Crypt Grammar School, for tea, but she became jealous of the influence the Pollards had over her son. Eventually she found a cottage nearby and announced, to James’s dismay, that he would be living with her from now on.
He went up to St Benet’s Hall, Oxford, to read English after National Service in the Royal Army Educational Corps. At around the same time, however, his parents reunited and bought a house in Golders Green. One day the Pollards, with whom he had kept in touch, arrived to meet his mother, only to be summarily ejected by the angry matriarch, who forbade them from ever seeing her son again.
His parents’ relationship broke up for good after a year, his mother selling the house and vanishing with the money. His father then sought a new life in America, while his mother kept in contact with occasional cards sent from different parts of England.
The emotional strain of these events led to Roose-Evans suffering a nervous breakdown and needing years of psychotherapy. He began his career as an actor in rep, but his interest in psychology soon drew him to directing, first as the artistic director of the Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich.
In 1950, after seeing the first “romantic and genteel” production of Christopher Fry’s Venus Observed he had asked a Jungian analyst to examine the play, in which a charismatic duke asks his son to select a wife for him from three former mistresses. His own version, staged at Chichester in 1992, portrayed the Duke (played by Donald Sinden) as an aging Peter Pan who can not commit himself, revealing a tension in the script that was absent from the first production.
In 1953 he attended a performance by the American dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham, which led to an invitation to run an experimental studio at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, integrating music, dance and drama, which he did in 1955 and 1956.
This sparked a lifelong interest in ritual, both in theatre and in life, which he would explore in a book, Passages of the Soul: Ritual Today (1995).
Roose-Evans had been brought up an Anglican but was received into the Roman Catholic Church while in Trieste during National Service. However, he later reverted to Anglicanism and his interest in ritual influenced his decision to become a non-stipendiary priest in 1981.
As well as his work with the Hampstead Theatre, a high point of his career was his stage adaptation of Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road, her book about her 20-year correspondence with the antiquarian bookseller Frank Doel. Roose-Evans directed the world premiere at the Salisbury Playhouse in 1981, and when it transferred to the West End it won awards for Rosemary Leach as Best Actress and for Roose-Evans as Best Director.
After the play transferred to Broadway with a new cast it won another slew of awards, including Best Director and Best Play awards for Roose-Evans. He continued to direct the play on tour and in 2015 returned to Salisbury with a new production starring Janie Dee and Clive Francis.
Roose-Evans’s interest in ritual was key to his understanding of theatre. As well as teaching at Rada and at the Central School of Speech and Drama for many years, Roose-Evans lectured at, and conducted, theatre workshops in the US and in Britain at which participants would be encouraged to reawaken their sense of ritual by developing new celebrations (he himself designed a non-religious ritual to mark the marriage of friends) to explore feelings or mark important events in their lives.
His Newspaper Workshop, for example, founded in 1994, involved the creation of costumes for street processions and roleplay out of old newspapers.
Roose-Evans was also the co-founder of the Bleddfa Trust, a “Centre for Caring and the Arts” in the Welsh Marches. The Trust attracted publicity following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, for hosting a “Diana Weekend” at which participants were invited to explore the conflicting emotions occasioned by her death and explore the differences between the woman and the myth.
Active into old age, in 2015 he founded Frontier Theatre Productions, a London-based theatre company, in order, as one website put it, to “highlight the contribution that older actors can make in a world obsessed by youth”. In May the following year he directed its inaugural show – a production of Marguerite Duras’s gripping tale of provincial murder, The Lovers Of Viorne, starring Charlotte Cornwell and Martin Turner. The Telegraph’s critic Jane Shilling found it “a masterclass in how these things should be done”.
A rumbustious man, Roose-Evans wrote books on theatre, as well as a series of children’s books in the 1970s. He was a generous host and a good cook, gardener and raconteur with a fruity line in stories about the theatre. His duties as a non-stipendiary priest were not particularly onerous. “I’m very proud of marrying the crime editor to the woman’s editor of The Guardian in Suffolk,” he told an interviewer in 2005. “I also bury the odd person, and preach a few sermons, mainly at venues like Westminster Abbey and Winchester Cathedral, though I’m still waiting for St Paul’s.”
In 2020 Roose-Evans was invited to Lambeth Palace to receive the Dunstan Award for prayer and the religious life “for his distinctive contribution in exploring over 65 years the relationship between art and life, the creative and spiritual”. His last book, Behold the Word: 52 Visual Meditations, written with John Rowlands-Pritchard, was published in 2020.
In 1958 James Roose-Evans met the actor Hywel Jones, who became his partner. Jones died in 2013 and in 2018 Roose-Evans wrote A Shared Life (2018), a memoir of their relationship.
James Roose-Evans, born November 11 1927, died October 26 2022
Old Cryptians killed during the Great War and Second World War by Simon Birch, Sarah Birch and Ray Pocock.
No less than 58 Old Cryptians in the 1914-18 and 80 in the 1939-45 conflicts, made the supreme sacrifice for King and Country. This 300 page book seeks to record their all too brief lives and what they achieved. It is a poignant story but one that deserves our respect and admiration, and a recognition that their sacrifice was not in vain.
The Club is saddened to receive the news that Gerald Rudge has died aged 78 years.
Thanks to Dr. Graham Russell who sent us the following…
Gerald Rudge (1955-60) died on 21 July 2022, aet 78 yrs.
Gerald was a journalist & one time Literary Editor of the Daily Mail.
He subsequently returned to live in Ross & worked for the Western Daily Press. On retirement he moved to Brixham & Burgundy, France.
He was a great supporter of the OCC, regularly attending London & Oxbridge dinners.
I am in touch with his sons.
I will attend his funeral on 17 August @ Linton Church, nr Ross.
Gerald’s son Duncan sends this obituary.
My father Gerald Rudge (1954 – 61) described himself to me as “a reluctant pupil” for his first three years at the Crypt. It seems his elation at having passed the 11-plus and being rewarded with the customary new bicycle was short-lived. He quickly found himself being compared unfavourably with his academically gifted elder brother, Edward, in whose shadow it seemed he was destined to exist.
Fortunately there were exceptions. At the beginning of Year Three he found that Fred Strachan was his new French teacher, Bernard Jones for art and, best of all, Charles Lepper for English Language and English Literature.
Immediately these three encouraged him to believe in himself. Charles Lepper discovered an embryonic creative writing talent in my father which he encouraged him to pursue and develop in his spare time. In his last year at the Crypt he decided on a career in journalism and began writing to local newspapers to try to find a vacancy for a junior reporter.
The Crypt’s maths master A.L.C. Smith also doubled up as Careers’ Master at that time and apparently made no secret of a bizarre distaste for newspapers and journalists.
This is how my father recalled his conversation with A.L.C. Smith:
“We don’t like to think of boys from the Crypt becoming newspaper reporters. Do you really want to spend your time hanging around in the rain on street corners? Newspaper reporters are in the same bracket as second-hand car salesmen and estate agents.”
Much to A.L.C. Smith’s chagrin Gerald began work as a junior reporter at The Citizen, then in St. John’s Lane connecting Gloucester’s Northgate and Westgate streets, in 1961 and after completing a satisfactory six-month probationary period signed his indentures for a three-year training.
It was the career of his dreams – and for the rest of his working life he never wanted to do anything else.
After his three years at The Citizen he moved to the Western Morning News, the regional morning newspaper at Plymouth, but eight months later, on learning that they were short of a sub-editor, he returned to The Citizen.
He then moved on to the Western Mail, the regional morning newspaper in Cardiff until, inevitably, Fleet Street beckoned and he joined the Daily Mail sub-editors’ desk. After six months he joined the Daily Sketch, which then merged with the Daily Mail and that was where he stayed for the next 25 years.
He became Executive Features Editor and eventually Literary Editor, responsible for book reviews, serialisations, commissioning authors to write feature articles and arranging literary lunches.
In 1994 he left the Daily Mail to become consultant editor at the Western Daily Press in Bristol until he retired from full-time work in 2000. Afterwards he was commissioned to write travel articles, which took him to France, all around the Mediterranean and Europe and further afield to the Maldives, Singapore and Hong Kong for several newspapers and magazines including The Independent, the Jewish Chronicle and the Eastern Daily Press in Norwich, for whom he also wrote a weekly food and wine column. He was also for many years editorial consultant to both the Egon Ronay Organisation and an English-language magazine group in Helsinki.
In 2006 he moved from Bromsash, near Ross-on-Wye to a cottage in the village of Domecy-sur-le-Vault in Burgundy and split his time between France and his flat in Brixham in Devon. Until well into his seventies he was paddling his canoe regularly on the rivers in Burgundy.
He always attended the OCs’ Oxford dinner until it ceased and the London OCs’ dinner every year.