Charles: Sir Antony Sher was ‘a giant of the stage at the height of his genius’

Sir Antony was the Prince of Wales’s favourite actor – a fact the royal revealed during his 2017 Commonwealth Tour

Benjamin Cooper
Saturday 04 December 2021 00:48
<p>The Prince of Wales meets his favourite actor Sir Antony Sher after he had played Sir John Falstaff in a performance of ‘Henry IV Part I’ at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2014</p>

The Prince of Wales meets his favourite actor Sir Antony Sher after he had played Sir John Falstaff in a performance of ‘Henry IV Part I’ at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2014

The Prince of Wales has paid tribute to Sir Antony Sher as “a giant of the stage at the height of his genius” following the actor’s death at the age of 72.

The Olivier Award-winning actor and director was diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier this year, and his death was announced by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) on Friday.

In a statement to the PA news agency, Charles said he was “deeply saddened” to learn of Sir Antony’s passing.

My heart goes out to Greg Doran and to all at the RSC. who will, I know, feel the most profound sorrow at the passing of a great man and an irreplaceable talent

Prince Charles

“As the president of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), I had the great joy and privilege of knowing him for many years, and admired him enormously for the consummate skill and passion he brought to every role,” the prince said.

“My most treasured memory of him was as Falstaff in a brilliant production of Greg Doran’s. I feel particularly blessed to have known him, but we have all lost a giant of the stage at the height of his genius.”

Charles offered his sympathy to Sir Antony’s husband, the RSC’s artistic director, saying: “My heart goes out to Greg Doran and to all at the RSC who will, I know, feel the most profound sorrow at the passing of a great man and an irreplaceable talent.”

Dame Judi Dench earlier described Sir Antony, with whom she starred in the 1997 film Mrs Brown, as a “sublime” actor who performed with “incredible intensity”.

Dame Judi Dench said Sir Antony was a ‘sublime’ and ‘remarkable’ actor

The 86-year-old described his performance as former prime minister Benjamin Disraeli as “spectacular”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, she said: “He could completely immerse himself in a character and make it completely remarkable, but not necessarily on his own terms.

“He was sublime. He was totally engrossed whenever he was working in that part and in that character.

“He was one of those remarkable actors who reserved that incredible intensity for the time he was on the stage.”

Brian Blessed, who performed alongside Sir Antony in Richard III in Stratford-upon-Avon, told the programme: “He revolutionised Richard III entirely. Amazing imagination, amazing vocal power. He hobbled around the set like a great bottled spider. He would terrify the audience in the first few rows.”

Blessed said to be on stage with Sir Antony was “mind-blowing” and added: “It was from another century. It was from another galaxy.”

Sir Antony (left) and Greg Doran tied the knot as soon as they were legally able to do so in the UK

The National Theatre posted a statement on Twitter from director Rufus Norris, saying: “With the tragic passing of Antony Sher, one of the great titans has left us.

“His contribution and example to our theatre world was exemplary, and his standing within the ranks of National Theatre actors could not be higher.”

Mr Doran announced in September that he was taking a period of compassionate leave to care for Sir Antony.

The South African-born actor tied the knot with Doran on 21 December 2005, the first day same sex couples could legally form a civil partnership in the UK.

Sir Antony starred in a number of RSC productions, including a role in 2016 in King Lear, as well as playing Falstaff in the Henry IV plays and Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of s Salesman.

He was the Prince of Wales’s favourite actor – a fact the royal revealed during his 2017 Commonwealth Tour.

Earlier landmark performances included Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, Iago in Othello, Prospero in The Tempest and the title roles in Macbeth and Tamburlaine The Great, as well as his career-defining Richard III.

He moved to Britain to study drama in the late 1960s and joined the RSC in 1982. His breakthrough role came two years later in Richard III, a part which earned him the best actor accolade at the Olivier Theatre Awards.

His theatrical skills were not limited to the West End, and his adaptation of If This Is A Man, by Primo Levi, into a one-man show titled Primo, ran on Broadway.

Off stage he had roles in films including Shakespeare In Love and Mrs Brown, and played Adolf Hitler in 2004’s Churchill: The Hollywood Years.

His final production with the RSC was John Kani’s Kunene And The King, which saw him star opposite Kani as Jack, an actor acclaimed for his roles in Shakespeare who is diagnosed with liver cancer.

RSC executive director Catherine Mallyon and acting artistic director Erica Whyman said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened by this news, and our thoughts and sincere condolences are with Greg, and with Antony’s family and their friends at this devastating time.

“Antony had a long association with the RSC and a hugely celebrated career on stage and screen.

The RSC said Doran will remain on compassionate leave and is expected to return to work in 2022.

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