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Richard McCabe (born William McCabe 1960) is a Scottish actor who has specialized in theatre. An Associate Artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), since 2005 he has also regularly performed at Chichester Festival Theatre. He was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Olivier Award in 1994 and won in 2013.
He was born in Glasgow in 1960 to a Scottish father and French mother. He studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Following the early death of his father and his mother's re-marriage, he grew up in Sussex, where he still lives. He adopted Richard McCabe as his Equity professional name, the first name taken from a teacher who inspired him.
His partner is costume designer, Fotini Dimou.
On 28 April 2013, McCabe won an Olivier award as Best Supporting Actor for his role as PM Harold Wilson in Peter Morgan's 2013 play The Audience at the Gielgud Theatre. He had previously been nominated (but not won) in 1994 in the same category for his role as Autolycus in Adrian Noble's 1992 RSC production of The Winter's Tale (further details are below).
From December 2013, McCabe starred alongside Iain Glen in Turgenev's Fortune's Fool at The Old Vic. Adapted by Mike Poulton and directed by Lucy Bailey, the production ran until 22 February 2014. Glen retired from the production citing illness and William Houston took over for the last five weeks. 
McCabe headed the bill at Bath Theatre Royal's Summer Season, playing the leading role of Monsieur Pinglet in Georges Feydeau's farce A Little Hotel on the Side, (originally L'Hotel de libre echange) translated by John Mortimer and directed by Lindsey Posner. This opened on 15 August and played until 31 August 2013.
Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph wrote: "that superb and versatile actor Richard McCabe, last seen in award-winning form as Harold Wilson opposite Helen Mirren’s Queen in "The Audience", is in tremendous form as the plump Pinglet. His cordial loathing of his hatchet-faced wife (Hannah Waddingham, nobly concealing her considerable beauty) is delivered to the audience with venomous fury, so that at times this farce seems more like a play by Strindberg. But he also has the true farceur’s sweaty desperation when his amorous plans go awry and he has to improvise his way out of trouble". (Review on 22 August 2013.)
Bath Chronicle: "we have the brilliant Richard McCabe in the starring role as the would-be French lover .... It is Paris at the turn of the 19th century where Monsieur Pinglet – engagingly played by Richard McCabe – lusts after his neighbour's wife". (Review on 20 August 2013.)
See http://www.theatreroyal.org.uk/page/3028/A+Little+Hotel+on+the+Side/614 for production photos from Bath Theatre Royal.
Last year, McCabe appeared in The Audience by Peter Morgan at the Gielgud Theatre in London's West End. He played Prime Minister Harold Wilson alongside Helen Mirren as HM The Queen. For this role he won the Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actor in the 2013 awards. The play closed on 15 June 2013. According to The Daily Mail, the producers are negotiating to take the play to Broadway in spring 2014, with Helen Mirren. This is as yet unconfirmed.
Critics hailed his performance: "Star billing after Mirren must go to Richard McCabe for his wonderful Wilson, initially chippy but quickly smitten by the Queen and deeply touching in his final decline," wrote Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph. Libby Purves in The Times wrote, "I never thought I'd shed a real tear for Harold Wilson (Richard McCabe)".
"Richard McCabe is superb as Harold Wilson in three encounters (one at Balmoral) which touchingly dramatise the couple's soft spot for each other – the lefty closet-monarchist hits it off with the monarchical closet-lefty (Wilson is a sort of wish-fulfilling audience-surrogate in this respect)," wrote Paul Taylor in The Independent.
"Morgan’s portrayal of the Queen as politically astute, fiercely loyal and thick skinned is unwaveringly flattering. Her quick wit is only rivalled by her favourite PM – if she were allowed the privilege of opinion that is – Harold Wilson, played endearingly by Richard McCabe as a man lacking any airs and graces but thoroughly charming the Queen. In his presence she becomes a good sport who pours her own tea – well her own milk at least – and reveals a sentimental side" wrote Charlotte Marshall on the Official London Theatre website. "And in the play's Highland fling to Balmoral Castle, did Harold Wilson have such fun playing the Huddersfield ruffian as Richard McCabe does?" wrote Georgina Brown in The Mail on Sunday. And one of many admiring comments on Twitter: from Jack Blackburn, “Richard McCabe certainly deserves his @OlivierAwards nomination for @theaudienceplay. Much underrated actor finally getting recognition."
Both Christopher Hart in The Sunday Times and Michael Billington in The Guardian criticised some of the writing. Hart touched on the scene with Margaret Thatcher. Billington wrote: "But Morgan's right to exercise dramatic licence goes way over the top in his portrait of Harold Wilson. This is no fault of Richard McCabe, who plays Wilson with a nice pawky humour".
Richard McCabe is an Associate Artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). He is best known for his roles with them, ranging from comedy (Puck, Autolycus, Thersites, Apemantus) to villains (Iago, Flamineo) and the title role in King John.
McCabe established his reputation as a classical actor mainly through performances with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). He first gained major attention as Puck in the 1989 production of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," with a production that featured punk fairies and a scrapyard set. McCabe wore Star Trek's Spock-style ears, an evening tail coat, white tutu and Doc Marten boots (RST, John Caird).
As Autolycus, McCabe entered Act III in "The Winter’s Tale" hanging from a bunch of huge balloons (1992–93, Adrian Noble, RST, Barbican, UK and international tour). McCabe was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Olivier Award in 1994 for this role. His first leading part was creating the role of Christopher Marlowe in Peter Whelan’s School of Night, a new play commissioned for 1993 by the RSC to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Marlowe’s death.
Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph:
“I have no reservations however about “The School of Night”; Peter Whelan’s ingenious play follows Marlowe through the last months of his life and by the time we reach the Deptford tavern where he met his death …. the atmosphere is electric. The piece works on several levels … and Richard McCabe’s comic, touching performance brings the enigmatic playwright wonderfully to life. Looking fleshy and corrupt, he mixes camp arrogance with fretful vulnerability, capturing the mixture of cynicism, moral ambiguity and vaulting ambition that is such a disconcerting feature of Marlowe’s plays”.
Major roles with the RSC have been the title role in King John (2006 Complete Works Festival, Josie O’Rourke, Swan); Iago opposite Ray Fearon in Othello (1999, Michael Attenborough, RST then Barbican); Flamineo in John Webster’s White Devil (1996–97, Deborah Warner, Swan and The Pit).
In September and October 2012, he played an older Romeo in Ben Power’s A Tender Thing (2009), which updates Romeo & Juliet. McCabe starred opposite Kathryn Hunter as Juliet. (2012, Swan, Helena Kaut-Howson) There were no press reviews of this production. He was Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night, (2009–10, Greg Doran, Courtyard; then Duke of York in London’s West End) with Richard Wilson (Malvolio), Nancy Carroll (Viola) and Alexandra Gilbreath (Olivia).
Since 2005 McCabe has played a range of contrasting roles in productions originated by the Chichester Festival Theatre: in 2011 he played the lead character of Jim Hacker in Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn’s new play of Yes, Prime Minister (2010, directed by Jonathan Lynn), commissioned by Chichester to mark the 30th anniversary of the television original. After a UK tour in spring 2011, the play ran at the Gielgud and then the Apollo theatres in the West End.
Most recently he was Ben Jonson in the Chichester production of Edward Bond’s play "Bingo" ("Bingo: scenes of money and death", 1973). Opening the 2010 season in the studio theatre, The Minerva, in April and directed by Angus Jackson, it moved to The Young Vic in early 2012. He attracted critical acclaim in both venues. McCabe played opposite Patrick Stewart as Shakespeare.
Michael Billington in The Guardian wrote: [Stewart] "is admirably supported by Richard McCabe as a cadging, biliously envious Ben Jonson".
Other roles at the Chichester have been the title role in "Scapino or The Trickster" by Moliere (originally Les Fourberies de Scapin, 1671, translated by Jeremy Sams, 2005) (Festival Theatre, 20 May to 9 September 2005), directed by the Romanian, Silviu Purcarete. In the summer of 2010, McCabe played the critic Moon in "The Real Inspector Hound" (Tom Stoppard, 1968, directed by Sean Foley) in The Minerva in a double bill with "The Critic" (1779, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, directed by Jonathan Church). McCabe played the title role of Puff, the impresario, wearing a huge wig, a beauty spot and dressed in lots of lace and a brocade satin coat.
Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph:
“McCabe shines especially brightly, this time as Puff, an 18th-century PR man and spin-doctor, who has written a terrible play about the Spanish Armada and whose massive self-regard makes Alastair Campbell seem bashfully modest. McCabe makes every word gleam, every mood register, while his corpulent body has a delicious delicacy in its movements. His mixture of pride and distress when he rehearses his play and discovers that the actors have cut it to shreds is beautifully caught, while the many ingenious coups de théâtre of the show’s grand finale are a knock-out.”
Awards and honours
- 1994, nominated as Best Supporting Actor, Olivier Award
- 2013, won Best Supporting Actor, Olivier Award
- http://www.olivierawards.com/ shows 2013 Olivier Award winners and all previous nominations
- http://www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk/news/first-nights/article/item174994/the-audience/ Charlotte Marshall's review of "The Audience", 6 March 2013
- http://www.facebook.com/theaudienceplay The Official Facebook page of "The Audience" including a photo of McCabe as Wilson
For information on the possible transfer to Broadway, see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2300793/Helen-Mirren-set-portray-Queen-Broadway.html and http://broadwayworld.com/article/Helen-Mirren-to-Continue-Royal-Run-as-the-Queen-in-THE-AUDIENCE-on-Broadway-Spring-2014-20130328 for details.
- http://www.rsc.org.uk/explore/shakespeare/plays/a-midsummer-nights-dream/1989.aspx This is part of the online RSC Archive and shows production photos, including one of McCabe as Puck, and a brief description of the 1989 production.
Charles Spencer review of "The School of Night", The Daily Telegraph, 9 April 1993
For the Stoppard/Sheridan double bill, 2010, see http://www.cft.org.uk/the-critic-and-the-real-inspector-hound and
- http://www.cft.org.uk/the-critic-and-the-real-inspector-hound# for photos of the cast in costume