Born October 1st 1956; died June 2012 It was tragically fitting that the final role played by Robert Paterson, who has died unexpectedly at home, was Gonzalo in Shakespeare's The Tempest at Dundee Rep. Gonzalo, after all, was an honest and trusted advisor to the king, with a good and noble heart, who provided the exiled Prospero with the basics to survive, as well as other things to make life more bearable. It was Gonzalo too who recognised Caliban as something beyond a mere monster, sees the beauty on the island he is shipwrecked on, and takes joy when all are reconciled at the end of the play. It isn't a huge role, but it is a crucial one with which, on the few nights he played it, Paterson shared many traits. This could be said of so much of Paterson's career over the last thirty years, be it as an actor, writer or director with every major theatre company in Scotland, or in film and television appearances that included Braveheart and Charlie Gormley's Heavenly Pursuits. Paterson's body of work over the last ten years as a member of Dundee Rep's ensemble company alone reveals a man with a fierce intelligence and curiosity who possessed a mixture of stateliness and quirkiness which, as with his approach to Gonzalo, was vital to every one of more than fifty productions he took part in. Paterson's career began at Glasgow University when during the autumn term of 1976 he turned up one day as an unknown quantity for an audition to play Thomas Beckett in a student production of T.S. Eliot's verse play, Murder in the Cathedral. The regular members of the company, who included at least two future TV directors, watched in astonishment as Paterson made the part his own. The production was subsequently entered for the National Student Drama Festival in St Andrews, where Paterson won the festival's best actor award as well as a rave review from Bernard Levin. After Glasgow, Paterson was awarded a scholarship to train at the London Drama Studio. Early work with TAG led him to new writing company Annexe, whose commissioning board he joined. As a writer himself, early works for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe included a play about a couple of hitmen awaiting to meet their target, the baroque language of which is reputed to have predated Quentin Tarrantino by a couple of decades. More recently, Paterson penned a version of Jack and the Beanstalk for Dundee. As well as Dundee, Paterson formed long-standing relationships with many theatres, including the Brunton under director Robin Peoples, the Tron with future Royal Shakespeare company head Michael Boyd, for whom he appeared alongside Forbes Masson in David Kane's farce, Dumbstruck, and with Winged Horse, run by Paterson's then wife Eve Jamieson. Paterson was a major figure too at Mull Theatre, where he first worked in 1985, and was instrumental in introducing current artistic director Alasdair McCrone to the venue after casting McCrone in his first student play in his first week at Glasgow University in 1987 in much the same way he'd found his dramatic feet a decade before. Paterson spent much of the 1990s working alongside McCrone as actor, director and dramaturg. Paterson adapted Iain Crichton Smith's novel, Consider the Lillies, for the stage, and, with McCrone, co-wrote Para Handy's Treasure and versions of Kidnapped and Jekyll and Hyde. He directed David Hare's play, Skylight, and appeared in Death and the Maiden, as well as one-man play, Old Herbaceous, which he's previously performed in the 1980s, and which closed Mull Theatre's old space in Dervaig. Paterson had been an admirer of Dundee Rep's unique ensemble before he joined it following stints at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre in Glengarry Glen Ross and Forbes Masson's debut musical, Stiff! Once he joined, he proved himself an essential, constantly inquiring presence under successive directors. Paterson's stand-out roles came in plays as diverse as Peer Gynt, Beckett's Happy Days, and most notably as crumpled academic George in a searing performance opposite Irene MacDougall in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? In 2010, a performabnce of Equus was cancelled after Paterson suffered a heartscare, though he was back onstage at the earliest opportunity. His last appearance prior to The Tempest was a sensitive and vulnerable performance in a revival of Zinnie Harris' Further Than The Furthest Thing, while in February he directed fellow ensemble member Kevin Lennon in Oliver Emanuel's play, Spirit of Adventure. Beyond the stage, Paterson was known as a maverick eccentric with a very singular vision, and a total one-off one member of the ensemble described as a '”holy clown”. A love of science-fiction and computer games clearly contributed to a magical imagination, while a relish for language and history was carried by a wisdom and an unflinching honesty. A music fan, Paterson's arrival at the theatre was frequently heralded by a Todd Rundgren or Steely Dan track blaring through his car windows as he parked. Unknown to many, Paterson was a fine singer, something he shared with his family, with whom he remained close. Paterson wasn't without his eccentricities, which included sporting brightly-coloured and garishly mismatched jackets and training shows, and an obsessive collecting of soft drink cans from around the world. For all this, it was Paterson's warmth, generosity and his soft heart that captivated friends and colleagues. As one said, “It feels like the biggest heart in the building has gone.” Paterson is survived by a sister Lynn, a brother, Steve, two nieces, and his parents, Bert and Sue.
The Herald, June 15th 2012