Obituary: Andrew Dallmeyer, Scottish playwright, actor and director

Scottish actor Andrew Dallmeyer was appearing as Shylock in  The Merchant of Venice at the Lyceum theatre in October 1987.
Scottish actor Andrew Dallmeyer was appearing as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice at the Lyceum theatre in October 1987.
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Andrew Victor Dallmeyer, playwright, actor, and director. Born: St Boswells, Roxburghshire, 10 January 1945. Died|: Edinburgh, 21 May 2017, aged 72.

Andrew Dallmeyer, who has died aged 72, two years after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease, was one of Scotland’s most remarkable theatre makers, a playwright and actor so brilliantly original, rich, strange and stylised in his approach that his work was often as difficult to categorise as it was fascinating. He is probably best known for his award-winning play Opium Eater, about Thomas De Quincey’s sojourn in Edinburgh, first seen at the Traverse Theatre in 1984; and for his remarkable acting performances, notably as the quintessential religious hypocrite, Tartuffe, in Liz Lochhead’s groundbreaking 1987 Scots version at the Royal Lyceum, and as Davis in Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker and Krapp in Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, with the Arches company in Glasgow during the 1990’s.

Yet over a career that lasted more than 50 years, Dallmeyer wrote – and often performed in – almost 80 of his own plays and monologues for stage and radio, many of which involve studies of major historical figures in difficult times; his subjects include Rudolf Hess, Salvador Dali, John Muir, and – perhaps most controversially – Osama Bin Laden, whom he portrayed in his 2002 monologue Wanted Dead Or Alive as a man on the run, hiding from the law by taking on the role of Santa Claus in a US shopping mall. His subjects were often intensely political or controversial but his approach was always quirky, ironic, unexpected and far removed from the straightforward agitprop that was in fashion during the 1970s, when Dallmeyer emerged as a playwright.

Andrew Victor Dallmeyer was born in the Scottish Borders in 1945, the third child of Lt. Col. Jimmy Dallmeyer, a decorated Second World War hero, and Nina Balfour, daughter of the 2nd Baron Kinross. The family were well-connected but not wealthy, with a strong bohemian streak; Nina Balfour had been a music-hall singer and dancer before her marriage. Andrew had a cheerful outdoors childhood in East Lothian with his elder brother and sister, and his younger brother James. After a relatively liberal education at Dauntsey’s School in Wiltshire, which he cordially disliked, he trained as an actor at the Webber Douglas Academy in London, co-founded by one of his great-uncles. “I think Andrew was probably always performing and entertaining, from the age of about three,” says his former wife and close friend Vivienne Dixon, “and I don’t think there was ever much doubt about the direction his career would take.”

After he graduated, Andrew Dallmeyer began a promising career as an actor and director in English theatre and in 1968, at Bristol Old Vic, he met Vivienne, who was playing her first professional role after drama school. The couple wed in 1969, and in 1971, aged just 26, Andrew was appointed Artistic Director at Liverpool Playhouse. The managerial and administrative aspects of theatre were not for him, though, and after some years in London the Dallmeyers returned to Scotland in 1976 with three year-old son Tobias, and took up residence in what had been his grandmother’s house in Stockbridge.

“I don’t think Andrew ever regretted coming back to Scotland,” says Dallmeyer’s close friend and colleague Andy Arnold, now director of the Tron Theatre, who worked with him on dozens of occasions both at Edinburgh Theatre Workshop in the 1980s, and at the Arches in the 1990s. “He was very rooted here, and he certainly wasn’t going to let anyone tell him how to be Scottish. It’s true, though, that his kind of upper-middle-class Scottishness was very much out of fashion in the 1970s, when companies like 7:84, were transforming theatre by telling working-class stories, from that perspective. So I think for that reason, he never quite had the recognition he deserved, as part of that generation of Scottish playwrights; he wasn’t part of any movement or group, and he was such an invidualist, it was never likely that he would be.”

“I think I was drawn to him,” adds Arnold, “because I’ve always been drawn to the otherworldly, the mischievous, and the eccentric – the characters you come across in James Joyce’s world of Dubliners and Ulysses, characters with a twinkle in their eye. Andrew was all of that, and more, an absolutely brilliant man.”

And Arnold and Vivienne Dixon agree that Dallmeyer’s onstage air of brilliance and bravado, whether playing wild-eyed dictators or mad scientists, concealed a much gentler, kinder and more diffident offstage character.

The Dallmeyers’ daughter Amy was born in Edinburgh in 1985, and the couple separated in 1993, although they remained in close touch. “For Andrew, the hardest thing was always real life, and all the practicalities it involves,” says Vivienne. “He saw all that as a terrible waste of time. He always wanted to be writing and performing, not managing or fundraising, and in that sense he didn’t make life easy for himself.”

Yet all who were close to him remember Andrew Dallmeyer as a man who essentially succeeding in living the life he wanted, surrounded by books and papers, writing in longhand on large sheets of paper – “He never had a typewriter, and I could never get him onto a computer,” says Amy – and occasionally pausing to drink a glass of wine, or listen to a football match involving his beloved Hibs, on the radio.

“He was a complete one-off,” says Amy, “full of unexpected ideas and passions; and all through his life, he was always dragging us all out for long, healthy walks, great eight-mile hikes every day. I think it both inspired him, and was a kind of release, to balance the hours he spent at his desk. And of course, he loved Hibs, which is maybe why he moved down to Leith after he left Stockbridge. I’m just so glad he lived to see them win the cup last year; we watched it together, and both wept for joy.”

Andrew Dallmeyer is survived by Tobias and Amy, both of whom work in television, by his brother James, and by two much-loved grandchildren; and also by a theatre community that may sometimes have taken Andrew Dallmeyer’s idiosyncratic genius and immense creativity for granted, but will now sorely miss not only his inimitable presence on stage and on the page, but also the offstage kindness, gentleness and wit that endeared him to generations of friends and colleagues, across Scottish theatre.

Andrew Dallmeyer’s funeral will take place at Seafield Crematorium, Edinburgh, at 1pm today.