Born: April 26, 1936;

Died: June 5, 2020

WHEN the death of Kristin Linklater was announced, the Facebook page of the Kristin Linklater Voice Centre, on Orkney, was filled with hundreds of fond reminiscences from people she had worked with over the years. All spoke enthusiastically of her abilities, describing her as an exciting, encouraging, inspirational teacher.

The actor Brian Cox wrote that when he was 16 he had attended a voice class given by Kristin, not knowing what to expect. “It changed my life forever”, he said.

Over the course of her distinguished career Kristin worked with such actors as Patrick Stewart, Sigourney Weaver and Donald Sutherland, and with countless students and with people who all wanted to make the best of their voice.

Kristin Linklater was born in Edinburgh in 1936. Her father was the novelist Eric Linklater; her mother, Marjorie, was a social activist and former actress. It was an artistic though not especially bohemian upbringing. Eric had a military background and was a strict yet remote presence, though many glamorous visitors enlivened the household, including the actor James Robertson Justice, the wildlife author Gavin Maxwell, and the poet and novelist Naomi Mitchison.

Kristin was the second of four children, all of whom grew up to have successful careers. Her elder sister Alison became an artist, while younger brothers Magnus and Andro were writers, the former working for several newspapers and editing The Scotsman and the latter writing a number of well-received books.

She initially attended Dounby Primary School in Orkney, then St Leonard’s School, St Andrews, which she detested, describing it as being dominated by dour disciplinarians. She was later a pupil at Downe House in Berkshire, where the arts were encouraged.

Graduating from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) she briefly acted at the Byre Theatre in St Andrews. But it was a return to LAMDA as a voice teacher that made her reputation.

Her methods were influenced by her own mentor, Iris Warren, who had worked with traumatised psychiatric patients, helping them unleash their potential with vocal coaching. Later Kristin would write a well-received book, Freeing the Natural Voice (1976), in which she discussed her own development of these methods.

In 1963 she chose to further her career in America, bravely booking passage on a ship with no promise of work on arrival. It was an astute move. In the States, Method acting, as promoted by gurus such as Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler, emphasised naturalism. Marlon Brando, James Dean and others were encouraged to mumble their way through performances. Scant attention was paid to voice projection until Linklater’s arrival.

She was initially employed at the repertory theatre of the Lincoln Center in New York and then became Master Teacher of Voice on the New York University Graduate Theatre Program. She worked as a vocal coach with, amongst other groups, the prestigious Negro Ensemble Company and the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario.

Her most influential career choice was setting up, in 1978, Shakespeare & Company along with friend and colleague, Tina Packer. Based in a large house in Massachusetts once owned by the novelist Edith Wharton, they set about teaching a generation of American actors how to perform Shakespeare.

Previously, American actors had believed the best way to tackle the Bard was to ape Olivier or some other titan of the English stage. Linklater and Packer showed them they could speak in their own idiom, though always paying attention to the text.

The actors she worked with included Richard Dreyfuss, Weaver, Patrick Stewart, Sam Rockwell, Kim Cattrall and Mary Tyler Moore. Brian Cox and Janet Suzman were also huge admirers.

Many major stars did not publicise their work with Kristin. Projecting charisma on screen, they were nevertheless often insecure regarding their speech and acting. Her response was to release them from such inhibitions using various innovative methods, some of which were physically demanding. Recently her brother Magnus hosted a party in Edinburgh. One guest arrived on crutches, explaining: “I’ve broke my ankle doing one of your sister’s classes.”

Kristin regularly gave seminars at the World Economic Forum in Davos, advising business leaders how to find and project their inner voice. Many regarded her tutorials as a life-changing experience.

As an adult she was a magnetic individual. She also balanced her understanding of human psychology with impressive factual knowledge. Her command of Shakespeare was comprehensive .

Her restless nature eventually led her to Boston, where she taught at Emerson College. While there she formed the Company of Women, an all-female Shakespeare company. She herself played Lear. She also wrote a second book, Freeing Shakespeare’s Voice (1992). Later she became professor of theatre arts at Columbia University in New York City.

At 77 she returned to Orkney, converting a crumbling farmhouse into a home. It was also adapted into a voice teaching centre with a studio and accommodation for twenty students. In a neighbouring field she built an amphitheatre for performances. She herself performed in an opera at St Magnus Cathedral.

She also attracted celebrities from the Hollywood firmament, including former pupil Bill Murray, who visited her last year.

Her death of a heart attack deprives the local community, and her many friends and disciples, of a pugnacious personality and presence, and of a voice that was always true and brave. She is survived by her siblings Alison and Magnus, her son Hamish, a noted actor, and granddaughters Lucinda Rose, Jill and Iris, who was born the day after Kristin’s death.