Obituary: Howard Davies, acclaimed theatre director behind hits in London and on Broadway

Howard Davies, acclaimed theatre director. Born: 26 April, 1945 in Durham. Died 25 October, 2016, aged 71

Howard Davies has died at the age of 71. Picture: Ian West/PA Wire

Olivier Award-winning British theatre director Howard Davies, who had hits in London and Broadway directing Kathleen Turner in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Lindsay Duncan in Private Lives, and Kevin Spacey in both A Moon for the Misbegotten and The Iceman Cometh, has died. He was 71.

His family said in a statement on Wednesday last week that Davies had died the previous day following a short battle with cancer.

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In Britain he won the coveted Best Director Laurence Olivier Awards three times for his work on The Iceman Cometh, All My Sons and The White Guard in 2011. He was nominated for a total of six Oliviers.

On Broadway, he was nominated three times for Tony Awards for Noel Coward’s Private Lives in 2002, The Iceman Cometh in 1999 and Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 1987.

A National Theatre statement called him “one of the very greatest” directors of his generation. He directed a remarkable 36 productions at the National Theatre during a 28-year stretch, beginning with Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1988.

National Theatre director Rufus Norris said Davies had achieved “almost legendary status” in show business, particularly for his work on American, Russian and Irish plays. His revival of The Crucible, starring Tom Wilkinson and Zoe Wanamaker, honoured Arthur Miller’s 75th birthday at the National.

“His reputation among actors, writers, directors and designers alike was beyond question, and has been for so long that his name has become a byword for quality and depth,” Norris said.

Davies directed the original Royal Shakespeare Company production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses with Duncan and Alan Rickman, which was transferred to Broadway and for which he won a Drama Desk Award for outstanding directing in 1987.

He had been working on a production of Wild Honey at the Hampstead Theatre in north London at the time of his death. The theatre said on its website the production will open in December as planned “in respectful memory” of Davies.

While most of his work was well received, Davies told the Guardian in 2010 that his major regret was working on a revival of My Fair Lady on Broadway in 1993. It ran only 165 performances, starring Richard Chamberlain and Melissa Errico.

He said he took on the project for the money and that the resulting production was “horrible from beginning to end.” Critics agreed, with the New York Post saying: “It looks odd, and the effortless balance of the original has frankly been lost.”

Davies also worked in television, directing James Bond star Daniel Craig in a version of Copenhagen and directing the feature film version of The Secret Rapture, based on the 1988 play he also directed.

“He was a wonderful director, a wholly admirable man and a good friend,” said National Theatre director Richard Eyre.

Davies was born in Durham and worked at theatres in Bristol and Birmingham early in his career before making his name in London. He is survived by his wife, actress Clare Holman.

SOPHIE BERMAN