Roland Rees, theatre director, died at 73

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Roland David Gwyn Rees, born on January 13, 1941 and died September 2, 2015, he was a theatre director.

Roland Rees, who has died aged 73, was a key fringe and touring theatre director of the 1970s and 80s, whose company, Foco Novo, presented important new work, including The Elephant Man (1977).

Written by Foco Novo’s co-founder Bernard Pomerance, the play was acclaimed for the performance of David Schofield as the Victorian fairground exhibit Joseph “John” Merrick, and entered the repertoire of the National Theatre in 1980, while another, simultaneous, production ran on Broadway.

Roland Rees was a quiet and thoughtful, bear-like bearded man with an unwavering commitment to new theatre that he developed while living in New York in the mid-60s and completing a PhD on the black activist Marcus Garvey at Columbia University.

Rees immersed himself in the artistic energy of that time – jazz, installations, happenings, Joe Chaikin’s intensely physical Open Theatre and the utopian visions of the Living Theatre – before returning to London with a clear idea of what he might contribute.

Foco Novo operated successfully for 17 years before the Arts Council summarily withdrew its revenue funding in a major cuts bloodbath in 1988 reflecting the aversion of the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, to subsidised “political” (ie leftwing) theatre.

Roland Rees died on September 2, 2015 at age 73.

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