David Conville: A Tribute
By Open Air Theatre
It is with sadness that we report that David Conville, founder and former Artistic and Managing Director and Chairman of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, died peacefully at home on Saturday morning (24 November 2018).
David Henry Conville was born on 4 June, 1929 in Srinagar, Kashmir, India, son of Lt Col Leopold Henry George Conville CBE and Katherine Mary Conville. He graduated from RADA in 1952.
A diverse acting career included roles in Coronation Street, A Little Big Business, Softly Softly, Bergerac, French Fields and Surgical Spirit, and the movies The Curse of the Werewolf and The Fourth Protocol.
In 1962, The Department of the Environment advertised in The Stage for tenders to take over Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre following the retirement of founder Robert Atkins. Although the theatre had been struggling financially, David Conville took up the challenge and, with David William as Artistic director, he signed a contract for a three-month summer season. Initial investors included Laurence Olivier, with catering run by Clement Freud. The season opened with A Midsummer Night’s Dream on 4 June 1962, a night of abysmal weather. Milton Shulman, reviewing for the Evening Standard, sat in his deck chair (there were no seats at that time), which promptly collapsed under him. This first season also included Twelfth Night and Love’s Labours Lost. In 1963 David founded The New Shakespeare Company, a charity and a not-for-profit company.
The theatre grew from strength to strength over the next 25 years, and David directed many productions. His 1977 production of Henry V, featuring Clive Arrindell in the title role and Celia Imrie as Mistress Quickly, was described by The Guardian as “clear and unpretentious…with a warmth of enjoyment and ample delights” and his 1986 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (a revival of Toby Robertson’s earlier production) saw Ralph Fiennes and Hugh Bonneville make their professional debuts, with Bernard Bresslaw as Bottom. In 1983, with Benny Green and composer Denis King, David adapted George Bernard Shaw’s The Admirable Bashville into an Olivier Award nominated musical starring Douglas Hodge – the first musical ever to be staged at the theatre.
In 1975 a new auditorium, designed by William Howell – which still forms the basis for the theatre today – was built at a cost of £150,000 – with a 1,200 seat capacity. 1982 saw the Golden Jubilee of the theatre, which was celebrated with a visit from HM The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh. In 1987, David became Chairman of the Company, while Ian Talbot succeeded him as Artistic and Managing Director (Richard Digby Day being Artistic Director between David William and Talbot), and subsequently Honorary President. He retired in 2012 following a 50 year association with theatre, yet remained a staunch supporter and audience member, enjoying his final visit in 2018 at the press night of Little Shop of Horrors.
Besides being a producer, actor, director and playwright, he was President of the Society of West End Theatres for three years, and was awarded the OBE in 1983.
David was married to Jean Margaret Bury (1956-1967) and to actress Philippa Gail from 1970 until her death in 1999. He is survived by his children Clare and Leo.
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