Michael Pennington

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This article is about the actor Michael Pennington. For the comedian, see Johnny Vegas.
Michael Pennington
Born (1943-06-07) 7 June 1943 (age 71)
Cambridge, England

Michael Vivian Fyfe Pennington (born 7 June 1943) is a British actor, director and writer. Together with director Michael Bogdanov, he founded the English Shakespeare Company in 1986 and was its Joint Artistic Director until 1992. He has written ten books, directed in the UK, US, Romania and Japan, and in April 2004 he became the second actor, after Harley Granville-Barker in 1925, to deliver the British Academy's annual Shakespeare lecture. The lecture was entitled Barnadine's Straw: The Devil in Shakespeare's Detail. He is an Honorary Associate Artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Pennington was born in Cambridge, the son of a Scottish mother and a Welsh father and grew up in London. He was educated at Marlborough College, became a member of the National Youth Theatre and then read English at Trinity College, Cambridge.[1]

He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company on graduation and remained in a junior capacity from 1964 to 1966, playing among other things Fortinbras in David Warner's 1965 Hamlet. He then left the company for eight years and worked in London, both on the stage (in John Mortimer's The Judge and Tony Richardson's production of Hamlet with Nicol Williamson), and on TV in many single dramas. He returned to the RSC in 1974 to play Angelo in Measure for Measure, beginning a relationship with the company as a leading actor which culminated in his own performance of Hamlet in 1980/81: he also played in new work by David Rudkin, David Edgar and Howard Brenton and classic works by Sean O'Casey, Euripides and William Congreve. He then left the company for a further eight years before appearing in Stephen Poliakoff's Playing with Trains, and ten years after that in the title role of Timon of Athens. In the meanwhile he appeared at the National Theatre in 1984 in Tolstoy's Strider, for which he was nominated for an Olivier Award, in Otway's Venice Preserv'd, and also premiered his solo show Anton Chekhov which he has been regularly touring internationally ever since. He also played Raskolnikov in Yuri Lyubimov's famous adaptation of Crime and Punishment and Henry in Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing in London's West End and played the title role on Sophocles' Oedipus the King on BBC TV in 1985.

Most of his career has been on stage in works such as Hamlet (RSC), Oedipus the King, The Entertainer, and Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. In 1986, Pennington and director Michael Bogdanov together founded the English Shakespeare Company. As joint artistic director, he starred in the company's inaugural productions of The Henrys and, in 1987, the seven-play history cycle of The Wars of the Roses, which toured worldwide. He has directed plays including Twelfth Night at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in the United States. Among his notable TV appearances have been in the title role of "Oedipus the King" and in the television movie The Return of Sherlock Holmes. He appeared in the 2005 film Fragile, co-starring Calista Flockhart. He is the author of the book Are You There, Crocodile?[2] which combines biographical material about the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov with an account of the writing of Pennington's highly successful one-man show about Chekhov; the full text of which is included. He has also written three books about individual Shakespeare plays and most recently "Sweet William - Twenty Thousand Hours with Shakespeare". His solo show "Sweet William" toured worldwide and was recorded as a DVD.Pennington has also worked as a narrator on many TV documentaries.

In April 2004 he became the second actor, after Harley Granville-Barker in 1925, to deliver the British Academy's annual Shakespeare lecture. The lecture was entitled Barnadine's Straw: The Devil in Shakespeare's Detail.[3]

Selected stage credits[edit]



  • Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)
  • Fragile (2005)
  • The Iron Lady (2011)


  • Rossya: A Journey through Siberia (1977)
  • Txèkhov - Un monòleg sobre la vida d'Anton Txèkhov (1989)(Catalan translation of Anton Chekhov) ISBN 84-297-2876-7
  • "The English Shakespeare Company - The Story of the Wars of the Roses" (with Michael Bogdanov) (1990)
  • Hamlet: A User's Guide (1996)
  • Twelfth Night: A User's Guide (2000)
  • Are You There Crocodile? Inventing Anton Chekhov (2003)
  • A Pocket Guide to Ibsen, Chekhov and Strindberg (2004)
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream: A User's Guide (2005)
  • Sweet William: Twenty Thousand Hours with Shakespeare (2012)
  • "Let Me Play the Lion Too - How to Be an Actor" (2015)


  1. ^ "The Latest Prince", The Sunday Telegraph, July 1980, Daniel Farson. Accessed 4 August 2014
  2. ^ Oberon Books, London, 2003
  3. ^ Proceedings of the British Academy, vol 131, 2004 Lectures, pp 205-227
  4. ^ Hamlet:A User's Guide, p 7
  5. ^ Are You There Crocodile? Inventing Anton Chekhov

Sweet William: A User's Guide to Shakespeare Nick Hern books, Published 2012

External links[edit]