Robert David MacDonald

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Robert David MacDonald (27 August 1929 – 19 May 2004) was a Scottish playwright, translator and theatre director.[1]

Work as a Theatre Director[edit]

Born in Elgin, Scotland, and originally trained as a musician, Robert David MacDonald spent some years as a translator for UNESCO before becoming assistant director at Glyndebourne and the Royal Opera at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.


In 1971, he became co-artistic director of the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, until his retirement in May 2003. During that time, he directed fifty productions and wrote fifteen plays for the company including The De Sade Show (1975), Chinchilla (1977), Summit Conference (1978 – later seen in the West End with Glenda Jackson, Georgina Hale and Gary Oldman), A Waste of Time (1980), Don Juan (1980), Webster (1983), In Quest of Conscience (1994), Britannicus (2002) and Cheri (2003).


MacDonald translated over seventy plays and operas from ten different languages; in her obituary for MacDonald, Sarah Jones wrote " was for his translations, stemming from his ability to speak at least eight languages fluently, that MacDonald may well be best remembered. He brought a diet of Goethe, Lermentov, Gogol, Goldoni and Racine, not only to Glasgow audiences, but to those around Europe and America...".[2]

He translated five of Friedrich Schiller's plays, which led Michael Billington to write in 2005, "why is Schiller no longer box-office poison? The first crucial fact is that actable versions of the plays are now readily available. MacDonald was the great pioneer in this area, but Jeremy Sams, Francis Lamport, Mike Poulton and several others have also rid the plays of swagger and fustian."[3]

MacDonald's translations include The Threepenny Opera, Tamerlano, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, The Barber of Seville, Aida, Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro, Cocteau's Orpheus and The Human Voice, Dürrenmatt's Conversation at Night, Fassbinder's Shadow of Angels, Genet's The Balcony, The Blacks and The Screens, Gogol's The Government Inspector, Goethe's Tasso and Faust I and II, twelve of Goldoni's plays, Ibsen's Brand and Hedda Gabler, Lermontov's Maskerade, Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba, Molière's School for Wives and Dom Juan, Pirandello's Enrico Four, Racine's Phèdre, Schiller's Mary Stuart, The Maid of Orleans and Don Carlos, Chekhov's The Seagull, Verne's Around the World In Eighty Days, Wedekind's Lulu and Goethe’s Clavigo. His translations of Rolf Hochhuth include his works The Representative, Soldiers and Judith.

One of MacDonald's early successes was War and Peace,[1][2][4] which he had translated from Erwin Piscator's 1955 German stage adaptation of Tolstoy's novel.[5] MacDonald's version reached Broadway in 1967.[6]

With Giles Havergal, he adapted Thomas Mann's novella Death in Venice for a one-man production in 1999. Following a run in Glasgow, the production has traveled to several theaters in Europe and the USA.[7]


MacDonald died of a heart attack, aged 74.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Coveney, Michael (24 May 2004). "Robert David MacDonald: Gifted and prolific director at the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre". The Guardian.
  2. ^ a b Jones, Sarah (28 June 2004). "Robert David MacDonald: Meticulous and erudite director of the Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow". The Independent.[dead link]
  3. ^ Billington, Michael (29 January 2005). "The German Shakespeare:Schiller used to be box-office poison. Why are his plays suddenly back in favour, asks Michael Billington". The Guardian.
  4. ^ "Obituaries: Robert David MacDonald". The Telegraph. 21 May 2004.
  5. ^ Neumann, Alfred; Piscator, Erwin; Prüfer, Guntram (1955). Krieg und Frieden. Für die Bühne nacherzählt und bearbeitet. Rowohlt. OCLC 253336057.
  6. ^ War and Peace at the Internet Broadway Database
  7. ^ Hurwitt, Robert (12 September 2006). "One-man 'Death in Venice' captures novel's creepy beauty". The San Francisco Chronicle.

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