Theatre director, playwright and critic

Theatre director, playwright and critic

Born: January 26 1934; Died: May 2 2014

Loading article content

CHARLES Marowitz, who had died aged 80, was a theatrical iconoclast of the 1960s counter-cultural avant-garde whose uncompromising attitude left its mark bluntly and without sentiment.

This was the case whether causing trouble in Edinburgh and Glasgow at the Traverse and Citizens Theatres, working closely with Peter Brook at the Royal Shakespeare Company, deconstructing Shakespeare in London at the radical Open Space theatre he co-founded with producer Thelma Holt, or advocating his artistic vision in Los Angeles during his later years.

He alienated many and not for ­nothing was his score-settling autobiography called Burnt Bridges.

The youngest of three children born in New York to Polish Jewish immigrants who worked in the clothing industry, Marowitz staged his first production, of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, aged 14, and by 17 had founded his own theatre company and was writing reviews for the Village Voice.

After doing army service in Korea in France, he moved to London, where he enrolled at the London Academy of Music, Art and Drama. By 1958, he had staged a London production of Gogol's play, Marriage, and in 1962 worked on the RSC's revival of King Lear by Peter Brook.

He became assistant director to Brook for the next three years, working with him on Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade and Jean Genet's The Screens.

However, it was in Edinburgh in 1962 where his reputation as an enfant terrible was cemented when he took part in publisher John Calder's International Drama Conference in 1963 at the McEwan Hall.

In what is regarded by many to have been the first Happening on UK soil, Marowitz, in cahoots with fellow ­travellers that included artist Mark Boyle, Ken Dewey, Allan Kaprow and Hollywood actress Carroll Baker, cut through a week of dry ­pontification with a pseudo-speech that gave way to a cacophonous melee that involved a taped collage of ­preceding events, bagpipe music and a brief appearance of nude model Anna Kesselaar whose tabloid-friendly ­presence gave the event its notoriety, even as it woke the event up from its torpor.

Marowitz went on to become a key figure in the early days of the Traverse Theatre alongside another American, Jim Haynes. Marowitz would go on to direct at the Jeannetta Cochrane Theatre, set up by Haynes and others with the intention of being a London version of the Traverse.

While Marowitz directed ­commercially successful productions of Joe Orton's Loot, Sam Shepard's The Tooth of Crime and other plays here, it was his own Open Space, started in a basement off Tottenham Court Road, that captured its underground spirit.

Marowitz returned to controversy in 1965, when the first night of his scheduled production of Doctor Faustus at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre's experimental studio base, the Close Theatre, was cancelled at the last minute.

Marowitz had his Mephistopheles sport masks for each of the seven deadly sins, with a mask of the Queen used for Sloth being deemed in bad taste by the Citizens board, whose chair, Michael Goldberg, pulled the plug seven minutes before curtain was due to rise on a packed house.

A full-on argument in front of a packed audience of press and local dignitaries became a piece of theatre in itself, with Marowitz claiming he was being censored, with Goldberg and fellow board member Duncan Macrae angrily defending their decision until Marowitz stormed out of the theatre.

"Producer Offensive To The Queen" ran the headline in the Glasgow Herald the next day, before the production went ahead with actor Peter Halliday sporting Britannia's helmet rather than the Queen's tiara in a not entirely convincing sleight-of-hand.

Marowitz adopted a cavalier attitude towards both classic and modern plays, with Shakespeare in particular falling prey to a cut and paste irreverence that pre-dated many post-modern directors, with his A Hamlet, A Macbeth and others outraging purists even as a younger and more open-minded audience lapped them up.

In 1981, having alienated pretty much anyone in British theatre he had worked with, and with the Open Space having closed its doors a year earlier, Marowitz returned to the United States, where he opened a new Open Space in Los Angeles.

He also became assistant director of the Los Angeles Theatre Centre, which he left suddenly in 1989 after a series of rows.

It was a similar story with the Malibu stage Company, which he founded in 1990, before his 12-year tenure as artistic director ended after he was fired following a unanimous decision by the company's board.

In 1987, Marowitz's play, Sherlock's Last Case, appeared on Broadway, with Frank Langella in the title role, and in 2002, Murdering Marlowe, which ­imagined a meeting between Marlowe and Shakespeare, was selected as a finalist for the GLAAD Media Awards.

He is survived by his second wife, Jane Windsor-Marowitz, who he married in 1982, and their son, Kostya.