Friday, 26 May 2017

Andrew Dallmeyer - Obituary

Andrew Dallmeyer – Playwright, actor, director

Born St Boswell's, January 10 1945; died May 21, Edinburgh


Andrew Dallmeyer, who has died aged 72 following a battle with Motor Neurone Disease, was a fiercely individual artist. This was the case both as a writer of an estimated 78 plays, many of which remain unpublished, or as an actor, whose expressive facial tics and looming physicality made him a natural for the range of grotesques and downbeat absurdists he specialised in. This was mirrored in his writing, which similarly set him beyond the mainstream as a seemingly wilful and at times eccentric outsider.

This was the case whether playing the title role in the original 1980s production of Liz Lochhead's Scots version of Moliere's play, Tartuffe, at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, or writing about kindred spirits including Salvador Dali in his play, Hello Dali (1982), and Thomas de Quincey in Opium Eater (1984). The latter went on to win a BAFTA Scotland for its radio version, while in 1990 a TV adaptation starred Paul Rhys as de Quincey and Peter Mullan as his cohort Willy.

“I believe that, even though I'm writing biography, it's really autobiography mostly,” Dallmeyer said of the play in an interview with the Herald in 2010, “because it's about the writer struggling to find inspiration.”

Andrew Victor Dallmeyer was born in 1945 in St Boswell's, Roxburghshire, as one of four children to Christopher James Dallmeyer, known as Jimmy, and Ursula Dallmeyer, nee Balfour. He spent much of his childhood in Aberlady, East Lothian, where he developed a passion for Hibs football club in-between watching western films and putting on ad hoc performances.

Wanting to be Albert Finney, he studied drama in London, and began acting at Bristol Old Vic and Nottingham Playhouse. By the time he was 26, Dallmeyer had become artistic director of Liverpool Playhouse, where, following a UK tour of his first play, Manson and Calley (1973) some of his earliest works were staged.

Dallmeyer married actress Vivienne Dixon in 1969, and the couple had two children. While they parted in 1993, they didn't formally divorce until a decade later.

In the late 1970s, plays such as The Show Must Go On (1978), Tart an' Trues (1979) and A Big Treatise in Store (1979) were winning plaudits and awards on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Further works were seen in Edinburgh at Theatre Workshop, the Netherbow and the Traverse, including The Boys in the Backroom (1982).

As an actor, probably Dallmeyer's most high profile role in the 1980s was as Tartuffe, Moliere's wheedling con man given fresh life by Liz Lochhead's bawdy Scots version at the Lyceum. It was a role Dallmeyer revived a year later in tandem with a stint as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Dallmeyer's play, The Grand Edinburgh Fire Balloon (1986) was seen at the Lyceum around the same time. Much later, he would appear in A Madman Sings at the Moon, the theatre's then artistic director Mark Thomson's award winning play. Dallmeyer also directed an estimated fifty plays.

Current artistic director of the Tron Theatre in Glasgow Andy Arnold worked extensively with Dallmeyer since they met in the 1980s at Theatre Workshop in Edinburgh, and regarded Dallmeyer as his theatrical mentor.

“He was well versed in all the rituals and protocols,” says Arnold, “but treated them with utter disdain, and rehearsing a play with him was always inventive, exploratory and more often than not chaotic and hilarious.”

Arnold's first production as artistic director of the Arches in Glasgow was Rudolf Hess – Glasgow to Glasnost (1990), a play written especially by Dallmeyer which he also acted in. This wasn't unusual. As Arnold notes wryly, “His plays very often had a part best suited for him to perform.”

Eighteen years later, Dallmeyer appeared as Jimmy Jack in Brian Friel's play, Translations, which marked Arnold's swansong at the Arches. Inbetween, in what Arnold calls Dallmeyer's “inimitable style”, he played Virgil in Inferno, Monsewer in Brendan Behan's The Hostage, Dr Harper in Arsenic and Old Lace and what Arnold describes as “an unlikely but brilliant Bottom” in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

As Arnold observes, it was Dallmeyer's interpretations of absurdist and existential characters where he really stood out. This was the case in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker, The Dumb Waiter and The Birthday Party. He played Estragon in Samuel Beckett's masterpiece, Waiting For Godot, as well as taking on the solo tour de force of Krapp's Last Tape.

Other roles included Hyde in Jekyll and Hyde at Dundee Rep, Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Theatre Workshop and Death in Swindle and Death at Mull Theatre.

Dallmeyer was, according to Arnold, “always unpredictable, always mischievous and provocative...a truly instinctive actor who you couldn't take your eyes off. There was a quality of genius about him.”

In later years, Dallmeyer courted controversy when, a year after 9/11, he played Osama bin Laden dressed as Santa Claus in Wanted: Dead or Alive. In Playing A Blinder (2002), he imagined the real life incident of the radio football commentator who was forced to improvise during the 1940 Edinburgh derby when he was unable to see the game because of fog.

In the same year Opium Eater was revived, Dallmeyer wrote Thank God for John Muir (2010). His most recent appearance on-screen was in Gillies MacKinnon's Peter McDougall scripted remake of Whisky Galore.

Few of Dallmeyer's plays have been published, with the writer often owning the only copies. If his Leith flat were to burn down, he said to the Herald, that would be his life's work lost forever. In the same interview, Dallmeyer admitted that he couldn't type, writing freehand in his spidery scrawl. He reckoned it cost him several hundred pounds a year to get his prolific output typed up.

“Sometimes people tell me I'll be successful when I'm dead,” he said, “but I believe if you write something worthwhile it will survive. But writing is something I've always done because I have to get something out there.”


Dallmeyer is survived by a brother, James, his son Toby and daughter Amy, and two grand-children, Leo and Holly. Another brother, Gavin, and a sister, Robina, pre-deceased him.

The Herald, May 26th 2017

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