Actor, Writer, Adventurer.
Born July 16 1966; died October 4 2014.
Peter Grimes, who has died aged forty-eight following a long illness,
was more than just an actor. He was an adventurer and a seeker, whose
empathy, both with the characters he played and with the audiences he
played to, reflected his sense of melancholy clowning with a deep-set
truth at its heart. This was the case whether appearing as Bottom in
Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, as Shere Khan the tiger in The
Jungle Book, as Barrabas, the thief pardoned as Jesus Christ was
crucified beside him, or in the title role in an expansive production
of Peer Gynt, Ibsen's classic fantastical romp of self-knowledge.
These characters reflected Grimes' own imagination, which was almost
certainly too wild to fit into a theatrical mainstream, and it was
telling that most of the theatre companies he worked for were similarly
maverick operations which embraced the creative freedoms and techniques
of European theatre forged in what used to be called alternative
theatre. This led to Grimes writing and directing his own work with
such fellow travellers, including Circus, which he directed for
Boilerhouse, and a version of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The
Sea which he wrote for the Walk The Plank company, who sailed around
Britain in a live-in 'theatre ship'.
Walk The Plank producer Liz Pugh remembers how “Peter loved the sea,
and loved the environment on board the theatre ship, when he joined us
on tour in ports and harbours around Scotland.” Given that Grimes
shared his name with the doomed fisherman who gave Benjamin Britten's
1945 opera its title, such an infinitely more buoyant voyage was all
Peter Grimes was born and raised in Dundee as part of a musical family.
His older brother Ged was a founding member of Dundee band Danny
Wilson, and now plays with Simple Minds, and his sister Jane was a
member of the 1940s-influenced vocal harmony trio, The Penny Dainties.
Grimes' younger brother Mark is a former music teacher who now lives in
Grimes attended St Matthew’s Primary School and Monifieth High School
in Dundee between 1971 and 1983, and on leaving school trained as a
psychiatric nurse. It was here he probably picked up the skills of
empathy and creativity that he applied to his own art with such
big-hearted open-ness and skill.
Grimes' first foray into acting came in the mid 1980s, with Dundee
group, The Cat's Oot The Bag Theatre Company. Their production of Senga
was a very local, Dundee take on the opera, Carmen. Grimes then went on
to be the narrator of Witch's Blood, a large-scale community play
produced by Dundee Rep in 1987. Performed in various locations
throughout the city, the play culminated in an atmospheric finale at
Dudhope Castle. With Grimes as the larger than life social glue keeping
the play's narrative threads together, Witch's Blood's epic staging is
still remembered as a seminal point in Dundee's cultural history.
This was followed by Keeping Right On to the End of the Road, a solo
play devised with playwright John Harvey, one of Scotland's key
exponents of community theatre at all levels. The first few weeks of
rehearsals were spent with Peter and John playing frantic grudge
matches of table tennis as they shouted ideas across the net to each
other, each convinced they were winning. The show was premiered at the
now demolished but then thriving Dundee Arts Centre, with Harvey
declaring Grimes' performance as “extraordinary...so moving that rather
than applause, the show ended in a kind of stunned silence"
Grimes' acting career took off, with an appearance in Liz Lochhead and
Robert Robson's Them Through The Wall at Cumbernauld Theatre in 1988
ushering in a slew of creativity. At the Tron Theatre, he appeared in
Anne Downie's The Witches of Pollock and Chris Hannan's The Baby, both
directed by future RSC director, Michael Boyd. At the Traverse he took
the title role of John McKenzie's neglected fire-cracker of a play,
Bomber, and Peter Mackie Burns' The Pursuit of Accidents, and later in
David Harrower's Kill The old Torture Their Young. Grimes appeared in
Neville's Island at the Byre Theatre, St Andrews, and at Dundee Rep in
The Weavers, Equus and as Shere Khan in The Jungle Book.
Grimes established long-term relationships with other theatre
companies, including Gerry Mulgrew's Communicado company, with whom he
appeared in Jock Tamson's Bairns, The Suicide, Portrait of A Woman,
Tall Tales For Small People, Bicycle To The Moon and A Christmas Carol.
With the Royal Shakespeare Company, Grimes played Trinculo in Sam
Mendes' production of The Tempest, appeared in Love's Labours Lost,
Murder in the Cathedral and Gerry Mulgrew's production of Moby Dick,
and was directed by Mark Thomson in The Glowing Manikin. In a play
described by Thomson as “hellishly dark and severe”, Grimes played a
tortured teenager “like a kind of Junior Hannibal Lecter who ate a bit
of his girlfriend.”
At the Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh, then under Thomson's tenure,
Grimes followed up an early appearance in Whuppitie Stourie with turns
as the Dame in Sleeping Beauty, Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream,
and in Iain Heggie's play, American Bagpipes. With Benchtours he was
directed by Pete Clerke in Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle, How
Many Miles To Babylon, Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard and that late
appearance as Peer Gynt. There were appearances too in Frankenstein
with Catherine Wheels, and with Grace Barnes' Shetland-based Skeklers
With Boilerhouse Grimes played the title role in Barrabas, Lance
Flynn's biblical epic that was presented at Tramway as the company's
then biggest show to date. Grimes went on to appear in other
Boilerhouse shows, including No New Miracles, scripted by novelist Alan
Warner, Bleach, which was seen in two very different versions in New
Zealand and Edinburgh, and Circus, which he directed. It was Grimes'
work with Boilerhouse that led to him doing 20,000 Leagues Under The
Sea with Walk The Plank.
Walk The Plank's Liz Pugh described Grimes as “Playful, poetic and
melancholic in equal measure, An amazing creative force, and a big man
who always noticed the small details in how we live and love.” Former
Boilerhouse director Paul Pinson called Grimes “a friend, a confidante,
a collaborator and an inspiration. He was fierce on quality and
Mark Thomson, who gave a eulogy at Grimes' funeral in Dundee last week,
called Grimes “a vivid, big hearted, imaginative larger than life
character who loved his family and friends and who made life an
adventure for himself and anyone who was lucky enough to travel or work
with him,” and said that “he had more imagination in his little finger
than most of us in our entire bodies...He was a unique and vivid human
being and restless adventurer of experiences in life... in his work
found himself in places most of us would hide from, and owned the
biggest heart I’ve ever come across.”
While Grimes' health diminished over recent years, his creativity never
wavered, and he continued to write short stories, plays and poetry.
Thomson sums up Grimes with lines spoken by him when he played
Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and “that moved me every time he
spoke them because I felt that Peter was connecting so personally about
his intense relationship with the world.”
'The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not
seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue
to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream
Grimes is survived his two sons, Joe and Liam Grimes and his stepson,
The Herald, October 14th 2014