‘Extraordinary and Influential’ Playwright Robert Holman Dies Aged 69 | Theater
Robert Holman, the playwright’s playwright who was revered for his finely crafted, extremely insightful and humane dramas, has died at the age of 69. His death on Friday evening was announced by the agency. Casarotto Ramsay & Associates who called him an “extraordinary playwright and extraordinary human being”.
Among the many theater makers to pay tribute on social media was David Greig, who celebrated Holman for his “silent and finely crafted work” exploring “the human desire to connect.” Greig wrote that Holman was “overlooked in his day” but was “a much appreciated influence and mentor. His integrity and his poetry set a fine example. We will miss him. ”Holman editor, Books by Nick Hern, praised his “magnificent and masterful pieces, which have influenced a whole generation of writers”.
Holman’s theatrical career spanned approximately 50 years and over 20 plays. Born into a Quaker family in 1952, he grew up in the market town of Guisborough, North Yorkshire. His first plays were performed in the 1970s at places such as Soho Poly, Cockpit and Royal Court in London, where he moved at the age of 19. He wrote plays in the hours leading up to and following his job as a newspaper seller at Paddington Station. “All my pieces are a mixture of memory and imagination,” he writes, “and they mostly used landscapes that I know well. I was born and raised on a farm in the North Yorkshire moors. Middlesbrough and the Tees Estuary, with the nearby chemical and steel industry, were 20 miles away.
German Skerries, directed by Chris Parr, Holman’s frequent collaborator at the Bush Theater in London in 1977, won the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright. The play, which closely observes birdwatchers of different generations, enjoyed a admired revival at the Orange Tree Theater in Richmond in 2016, shortly after the closure of the Redcar Steel Mill in Teesside, which forms its backdrop. The artistic director of the orange tree, Paul Miller, homage paid Saturday, saying Holman embodied George Eliot’s ideal of a “keen sight and feeling of all ordinary human life.” Holman, he added, was “a very English artist: the pieces are rooted in real life but suggest other worlds and realities.” Playwright Caitlin Magnall-Kearns was also among the pay homage and called Holman “a master of the underrated and unspoken”.
After productions at the Traverse of Edinburgh (Rooting) and the Royal Court (Other Worlds and The Overgrown Path), as well as one for the Royal Shakespeare Company (Today), Holman returned in 1986 to the Bush with a trilogy set in the 1940s and 80s on lives changed by war. You could say that his title, Making Noise Quietly, which also inspired the name of a retrospective at the Royal Exchange in Manchester in 2003, sums up his exquisitely powerful pieces, which subtly appeal to audiences with their attention to detail and sound. sincere observation – and can really jump too. “I think the connections audiences make depend on them,” Holman said of the three short dramas. “Coins are just chunks of energy which, by fluke, sometimes add up to more than they really are.”
The covers of Making Noise Quietly included one at Donmar in London by director Peter Gill in 2012. Seven years later, it became a film directed by Dominic Dromgoole, who had directed it in the West End in 1999, and starring starring Matthew Tennyson, who appeared in The Donmar Production. A Breakfast of Eels, presented at the Print Room in London in 2015, was written especially for Tennyson and fellow actor Andrew Sheridan. It won the award for Best New Play at the Off West End Theater Awards the following year. Holman and Tennyson returned to the print room (now renamed Coronet) earlier this year with a new room, The tenant.
Holman has also written for television and radio and served as a playwright in residence at the National Theater and with the Royal Shakespeare Company. If the pieces are often marked by their hope, their grace, their tenderness and their compassion, Holman explained that his dramas “Are not motivated by a single ideology or a single idea, there is no right or wrong in them, or an easy explanation.” They are about what you want them to be, and that is changing.
His other plays include Across Oka (at RSC, 1988), Holes in the Skin (Chichester’s Minerva theater, 2003), Jonah and Otto (Royal Exchange, 2008) and A Thousand Stars Explode in the Sky (Lyric Hammersmith, 2010). The last of them, a family drama about the end of the universe, was co-written with David Eldridge and Simon Stephens, both of whom became devoted friends and admirers of his plays.
“With brilliant and quiet determination and faith, he looks at a contradictory, violent, morally uncertain and unstable world,” Stephens wrote in 2008. “Some have found this boldness and faith disturbing. Maybe that’s the reason he’s no more famous than he is. This certainly makes it difficult to simplify, summarize or even describe its pieces. They are too organic or surprising for that. However, this delighted the audience with whom I shared his pieces. I think he will continue to do so. If you are new to his plays, I envy you. You are about to embark, in my opinion, on something quite extraordinary.