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Robert Paterson Obituary

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 

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 

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



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