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John Normington

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2007-08-22 Times.jpg


Popular and versatile supporting actor who ranged gracefully from Shakespeare in the West End to television soap opera

John Normington was a notable character actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre and in the West End. He was known with universal affection as Nora from a Henry Livings character he played at the Library Theatre, Manchester, in the 1960s.

His best-remembered roles included Sam in Harold Pinter's The Homecoming — in the original production and in the West End revival — Mr Miller in The Deep Blue Sea at the Haymarket with Penelope Keith; Crabtree in The School for Scandal; Feste in Twelfth Night, Jaques in As You Like It and Bardolph in Henry IV. He was brilliantly funny as the Emperor in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, reproaching Mozart for including "too many notes"; and sweetly avuncular as Abernethy in the musical Guys and Dolls at the National.

On television his versatility led to an almost wider range: from Edward VII, William Shakespeare to John Vassall (whom he once met) in The Diplomatic Spy and Her Majesty's Pleasure, as well as appearances in Love in a Cold Climate, Longitude, Peak Practice, Hitler's SS, Inspector Morse, Doctor Who, Casualty and many others.

His film appearances included The Reckoning (1966), Inadmissible Evidence (1968), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1968), The Thirty Nine Steps (1978) and A Private Function (1984).

John Normington was born in 1937 at Dukinfield, Greater Manchester. After training as an opera singer at the Northern School of Music in Manchester he did National Service. While stationed at Aldershot he inveigled himself into Farnham Rep and decided to become a character actor. He joined the Repertory Theatre, Oldham, in 1950, and moved to the Library Theatre, Manchester, from 1959 to 1962.

In the scramble of weekly rep — a blur of line learning, rehearsing and performing — he sensed that some thing was lacking in his work and he paid tribute to his mentor, David Scase, at the Library Theatre, for introducing that missing element "I soon became aware that I was never going to be the next Clark Gable and that I was no good at playing the straight juvenile. I could, however, be the juvenile character — the boy next door —and David always said I would come into my own later in my career.

"He taught me how to work on a part — something you seldom do in weekly rep — and he showed me how to ask questions about a character."

After a stint at Oxford Playhouse he moved in 1963 to the RSC and his long association with Peter Hall. He played Mortimer, Simpcox and Young Clifford in the adaptation of Shakespeare plays known as the Wars of the Roses at Stratford-upon-Avon. After Bar-dolph in both parts of Henry IV and Dean in Brecht's Puntila, he played in The Homecoming, Antipholus in The Comedy of Errors and Oblong Fitz Oblong in The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew (Aldwych, 1965). He leftthe RSC in 1967 to play Feste in Twelfth Night at the Royal Court and was happy with the anonymity. Some actors could not set foot in a shop without being recognised, but Normington enjoyed his privacy. When he settled finally at the National Theatre for Amadeus, Danton's Death, As You Like It and The Winter's Tale, he remembered how he once had sometimes "stretched" roles.

He first played Sam in The Homecoming for the RSC when he was 28 and was 54 when Peter Hall directed him again in the same part in the West End.

"Hall once told me that he enjoys my understated and unforced style of acting," Normington recalled. "He admires what he calls its delicacy." He played the Fool to Corin Redgrave's Lear at Stratford in 2004, but had to withdraw before the production moved to the West End when he showed the first signs of pancreatic cancer. He recovered sufficiently to take on several other roles, including Peacey the office clerk in Peter Gill's production of The Voysey Inheritance at the National last year, and he got excellent reviews as Billy Rice in The Entertainer at the Old Vic this year. Normington never sought stardom. He liked people too much to care for his own reputation. He once told an interviewer "Perhaps I haven't been choosy enough. I've ended up most of my life working in companies because I think I enjoy the luxury of acting with people in more than one production."

He is survived by his partner, John Anderson.

John Normington, actor, was born on January 28, 1937. He died of cancer on July 26, 2007, aged 70

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