Desmond Heeley, an “alchemist” of theatrical design, dies at 85



In 1955, Mr. Heeley created the costumes for Mr. Brook’s flagship production, “Titus Andronicus,” at the time the most rarely performed of Shakespeare’s tragedies due to its explicit violence. Mr. Brook’s production – with Olivier as the main character, a Roman general and Vivien Leigh as his daughter Lavinia, who is raped and mutilated – “recovered the play for modern theater,” wrote critic Michael Billington.

Its highly stylized design dampened the blood – Lavinia’s wounds were depicted as red ribbons flowing from her mouth and sleeves – and helped shift the focus from the horrors of revenge and carnage to the agony of the unfathomable? mourning.

Mr. Heeley’s subsequent theatrical work in England includes the original productions of “Loot” by Joe Orton and “Carving a Statue” by Graham Greene, starring Ralph Richardson. His connections to the Shakespeare Theater – which included designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch and directors Tyrone Guthrie and Michael Langham, who all became prominent figures in the early years of the Stratford Festival – led him to work in Canada.

Mr. Heeley has no immediate survivors. His partner, Lance Mulcahy, composer, died in 1998.

In an interview with in 2011, Mr. Heeley recalled his first contact with the theater, and perhaps the seeds of his life’s work.

“When I was 5, I was taken to see a pantomime, which I think was called ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’,he said. “And for some reason there was a spooky toy store, which I thought was pretty good at 5, but out of that ceiling came out this dancing cardboard skeleton, and I remember it clearly, and thinking, “This is not very good It’s just an old cardboard thing.

“But at the same time, in the toy store, there were these life-size dolls in boxes, and you know what?” They have come alive. I was amazed. These dolls were alive!



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