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John Stahl - An Obituary

John Stahl – Actor

Born June 23, 1953; died March 2, 2022


John Stahl, who has died aged 68, was an actor who was latterly best known for his regular roles in two iconic TV series’. In Game of Thrones (2012-2013), Stahl played Rickard Karstark, taking over from Stephen Blount in series two as a chief member of Robb Stark’s war council, who vows revenge after his two sons are killed by Jaime Lannister, only to end up himself executed by Stark in series three. 


Three decades earlier, Stahl began a lengthy stint on Take the High Road (1982-2003), the rural Scottish Television soap opera later rebranded as High Road. Stahl was farmer Tom Kerr, better known to viewers and other characters as Inverdarroch. Both characters utilised Stahl’s towering presence, which combined a commanding sense of authority tempered by a benign empathy that was never far away.


Beyond these two high profile roles, Stahl was a stalwart of theatre in Scotland, appearing in most of the country’s major producing houses, as well as with 7:84 Scotland and the National Theatre of Scotland. He also appeared further afield, with both the National Theatre in London and Royal Shakespeare Company. The latter was then under the tenure of artistic director Michael Boyd, with whom Stahl worked at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow. Stahl also appeared at Shakespeare’s Globe, where he played George Washington, making his entrance on a horse.


Stahl’s dedication to his craft and fascination with the machinations of theatre stayed with him right up to what turned out to be his final performances. These both happened close to where he called home on the Isle of Lewis, where he lived with his long-term partner, Jane Paton. After initiating an online performed reading of 7:84 founder John McGrath’s early play, Random Happenings in the Hebrides, Stahl’s very final appearance was in Valhalla, a music video for singer/songwriter Andrew Eaton Lewis. 


John Stahl was born in Sauchie, Clackmannanshire. He went to Alloa Academy before training as an actor at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, in Glasgow. Following a stint as assistant director at Darlington Drama Centre from 1975-1976, his professional acting career began in 1976, when he played a policeman in Garnock Way (1976), a precursor of sorts to High Road. He played another policeman in his first big screen role in A Sense of Freedom (1981), John Mackenzie’s Peter McDougall scripted adaptation of reformed gangster Jimmy Boyle’s memoir.


On stage, Stahl worked extensively at Cumbernauld Theatre, taking part in productions of Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story, Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker, and two Joe Orton plays, Entertaining Mr. Sloane, and What the Butler Saw. He also directed several productions at Cumbernauld, including a revival of Hector MacMillan’s Orange Order based drama, The Sash.


At the Tron, he appeared in Boyd’s production of Macbeth, an adaptation of Gogol’s The Gamblers, in Tony Roper’s play, Paddy’s Market, a Scots translation of Quebecois playwright Michel Tremblay’s The Real Wurld, and in Chris Hannan’s play, The Baby. He appeared in another Hannan play, Shining Souls, at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, where he also appeared in David Greig’s play, The Architect, and Mike Cullen’s controversial work, Anna Weiss. For the latter, he won The Stage Award for Acting Excellence at the 1997 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. He was also cast at the Traverse in Gregory Burke’s debut play, Gagarin Way, and in Isabel Wright’s drama, Mr. Placebo. 


Back at Cumbernauld, Stahl appeared in Jim Cartwright’s play, Two. Outside Scotland, he featured in the Royal Court’s production of Conor McPherson’s play, The Weir, in several productions with Oxford Stage Company, and with the RSC. He was in Shared Experience’s production of Sarah Kane’s play, Crave, and in Bath in a revival of Alan Wilkins’s play, Carthage Must Be Destroyed. At the National Theatre, he appeared in Danny Boyle’s production of Frankenstein, alongside Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch, and with the National Theatre of Scotland, productions of Mary Stuart, and the first of Rona Munro’s James Plays trilogy.


Stahl latterly appeared in Rebus: Long Shadows (2018), a stage play featuring Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh detective, and co-written with Rona Munro. On screen, Stahl was in Mary Queen of Scots (2018), and seasonal rom-com, A Castle for Christmas (2021).


The reading for Random Happenings in the Hebrides came about after Stahl read about it in the compendium of McGrath’s work, Naked Thoughts That Roam About. The twentieth anniversary of McGrath’s death in January this year seemed the perfect time to do something. Working with the Isle of Lewis based sruth-mara  company, Stahl drove the project, and talked after the event of potentially doing a full production, and maybe mount something similar with other neglected plays. His enthusiasm knew no bounds, despite him being ill by this point. 


It was the same when he appeared in Valhalla. Directed by Laura Cameron-Lewis in Stahl’s home a week before his passing, the film sees him play a Viking looking out to the sea as Eaton Lewis’s song accompanies it. With Paton also appearing, Stahl’s features are seen in intimate close-up in what has become a loving accidental elegy to the video’s great star. There is a moment in the film in which Stahl shakes his fist in what Eaton Lewis wrote was an act of  ‘triumphant defiance. Still acting. Still alive.’


He is survived by Paton. The couple became Civil Partners in 2021, and were informed they were the first Mixed Sex Civil Partnership in Scotland.

The Herald, March 12th 2022




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