Robin Phillips

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Robin Phillips
Robin Phillips 1973.jpg
Robin Phillips in 1973
Born(1940-02-28)28 February 1940
Haslemere, Surrey, England, United Kingdom
Died25 July 2015(2015-07-25) (aged 75)
near Stratford, Ontario, Canada
ResidenceStratford, Ontario, Canada
OccupationStage actor; film and stage director
Years active1962–1972 (as an actor)
Partner(s)Joe Mandel (1971–2015; his death)

Robin Phillips OC (28 February 1940 – 25 July 2015) was an English actor and film director.


He was born in Haslemere, Surrey in 1940[1][2] to Ellen Anne (née Barfoot) and James William Phillips.[3][4] He trained at the Bristol Old Vic, where a contemporary was Patrick Stewart, and worked as an actor and director for many years in the United Kingdom, finishing as artistic director at the Greenwich Theatre from 1973 to 1975.

He was hired as artistic director at the Stratford Festival in Canada in 1975, where he spent six seasons directing many productions and cultivating new talent. Maggie Smith, Richard Monette, Martha Henry and Brian Bedford, among others, were prominently featured during his tenure, and many of his Shakespearean, classical, and contemporary productions won widespread acclaim.[5][6][7][8] In a review of Phillips' 1977 Stratford production of Richard III with Bedford in the title role, The Globe and Mail theatre critic John Fraser wrote: "The production Phillips has mounted is stunning, crackling with nuances and details that are spellbinding, while radiating an over-all economy of dramatic management that demands an intense involvement from any audience".[9] Veteran Stratford actor and director William Hutt compared Phillips to earlier artistic directors by saying: "With Guthrie, the heartbeat of a production was loud, obvious, robust and healthy. With Langham, rhythmic, predictable and safe. With Gascon it ran fast; you suspected high blood pressure. With Phillips the heartbeat is thunderingly silent: it’s the audience’s hearts you hear beating”.[10]

Phillips' energy seemed boundless during his time at the Stratford helm. He directed 36 productions in six seasons (his predecessor Jean Gascon directed 17 productions in seven seasons), and the company, audience, and overall scale of the organization grew considerably.[7][11] But the workload took its toll: exhaustion was cited as the primary reason for his departure when he resigned during the 1980 season.[12] He would later become artistic director at the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario and return to Stratford to direct the Young Company in 1987–88. He was also director general at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton from 1990 to 1995.

He directed a musical version of Jekyll & Hyde (1997) on Broadway (winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Set Design for his contribution to the scenic design); Long Day's Journey into Night in London's West End in 2000; and a stage version of Larry's Party at Canadian Stage and the National Arts Centre in 2001.

Phillips was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2005.[13] The citation read, in part, "Robin Phillips is revered amongst members of Canada's acting community. ... A tremendous asset to the cultural life of Canada, he is also credited with bringing new life to the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton and to theatres across the country."[13] In 2010, Phillips received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, Canada's highest honour in the performing arts.[14]

Phillips died in his sleep on 25 July 2015, after a prolonged illness.[15][2] He was survived by a younger sister, Hilary, and by his partner, Joe Mandel, whom he first met in 1962 but who became his partner in 1971.[16]

In film[edit]

Though none of his stage productions were captured on film, Phillips is featured in the documentary Robin and Mark and Richard III, in which he guides veteran TV actor Mark McKinney through some key scenes in Shakepeare's Richard III. Its creators Susan Coyne and Martha Burns had both been directed and mentored by Phillips earlier in their careers, and wanted to capture some of his technique coaching McKinney, a Shakespeare novice. The film was released in 2016, shortly after Phillips' death.[17][18]

Selected film and TV credits[edit]



  1. ^ Morrow, Martin (31 July 2015). "Canadian stage greats have actor, director Robin Phillips to thank". The Globe and Mail. (not 1942, as most biographies indicate). According to Joe Mandel, Mr. Phillips’s long-time partner, the incorrect date was listed on his first British passport and remained on the records thereafter. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |newspaper= (help)
  2. ^ a b Weber, Bruce (2 August 2015). "Robin Phillips, Director, Dies at 75; Revitalized Canada's Stratford Festival". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Robin Phillips profile at
  4. ^ "Phillips, Robin (1940–2015), director, designer, and actor | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". doi:10.1093/odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-109899. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  5. ^ Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia
  6. ^ Maurice Good. "Every inch a Lear": a rehearsal journal of "King Lear" with Peter Ustinov and the Stratford Festival Company, directed by Robin Phillips. Sono Nis Press, 1982. ISBN 978-0-919203-26-6
  7. ^ a b "Stratford Gold: Robin Phillips revitalizes Stratford". CBC Digital Archives. 2002. Retrieved 4 April 2019. Includes 24min video.
  8. ^ "Robin Phillips directing credits". Stratford Festival Archives. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  9. ^ Fraser, John (10 June 1977), "Richard III: dark byways of the soul", The Globe and Mail, p. 16
  10. ^ Cobb, David (30 May 1977), "The master of Stratford", Macleans, p. 34, retrieved 3 June 2019
  11. ^ Dialogue: Robin Phillips. TV Ontario. 10 August 1997. Retrieved 11 June 2019.
  12. ^ Martin Knelman, A Stratford Tempest. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1982, 240 p. ISBN 978-0-7710-4542-4
  13. ^ a b "Order of Canada". The Governor General of Canada. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  14. ^ "Robin Phillips biography". Governor General's Performing Arts Awards Foundation. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
  15. ^ "Robin Phillips, former head of Stratford Festival, dead at 73". CBC News. 26 July 2015. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
  16. ^ Obituary for Robin Phillips in The Guardian - 30 July 2015
  17. ^ "Review: ROBIN AND MARK AND RICHARD III". Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  18. ^ "Doc screening features Canadian theatre & TV legends". Retrieved 15 April 2018.

External links[edit]