Adolfo Marsillach

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The Independent Online

Adolfo Marsillach Soriano, actor and director: born Barcelona 25 January 1928; married 1957 Amparo Soler Leal (marriage dissolved 1959), 1962 Teresa del Río (two daughters; marriage dissolved 1970), 1976 Mercedes Lezcano; died Madrid 21 January 2002.

Four centuries ago Spanish theatre galvanised Europe when Cervantes and Lope de Vega entranced all classes with plays rich in irony, satire and romance. The revolutionary art form then languished until a cultured Catalan who hated the ordinary restored its polemical brilliance.

Under Franco's dictatorship, Adolfo Marsillach mounted theatrical spectacles whose critical force was clear to everyone except those enforcing the intellectual torpor of those years.

From a refined and free-thinking family that included theatre critics, Marsillach made his début (on radio) aged 17, and had his first stage success in Madrid in 1950, in a daring production of Buero Vallejo's En la ardiente oscuridad ("In the Burning Darkness"). By 1953 he was hailed as Spain's Gary Cooper.

His performances in the 1960s of Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade, Molière's Tartuffe and Arthur Miller's After the Fall provoked tidal waves of controversy. Theatre, he insisted, was not a museum, it was political.

After Franco's death in 1975, Marsillach laid the bases for the state-sponsored theatre companies that emerged in Spain's new democracy. He directed the National Drama Centre and the National Institute for Performing Arts and Music and Madrid's Teatro Español. Finally he founded the National Classical Theatre Company.

Marsillach was unaffected and straightforward. "Actors are like horses," he said. "They spot instantly the class of rider who has mounted them. And they'll take every opportunity to tweak your nose."

His last big role was in 1999 as star in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which he also directed.

Elizabeth Nash