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His Life & Career - Reginald Perrin - Rising Damp

The Life & Career of Leonard Rossiter

Theatre Performances: 1970s and 1980s

A chronological guide to the theatre performances of Leonard Rossiter from the 1970s to 1980s. All dates are opening dates.

On This Page A - Z:

A Christmas Carol
Abel, Where Is Your Brother?

Caretaker, The
The Frontiers Of Farce (Special Page)
Heretic, The
The Immortal Haydon (Special Page)
Looneys, The
Loot (Spcial Page)
Make And Break
Richard III
Rules of The Game
Semi-Detached (Separate Page)

The Heretic
July 1970
Written by Morris West
Directed by Morris West and Joseph O'Connor
Performed at the Duke Of York's Theatre, London

The life and death of Giordano Bruno (Rossiter), the 16th-Century philosopher, opponent of Catholicism and subscriber to the Copernican view of the Universe, burned at the stake for his beliefs.

Leonard played the lead role of Giordano Bruno.

Critical Reviews:
"The Heretic seemed designed to bring out all Leonard's worst vocal and physical mannerisms. He started off too much in a comic vein and then strove so hard after 'effects' that the performance was all 'effects' and little else." - Robert Tanitch.
"The star of Arturo Ui proceeded to give the sort of performance I thought went out with the Lyceum...Has there been such a grotesquerie since the hunchbacked Laughton swung from the gargoyles of Notre Dame?" - Felix Barker, Evening News.
"Leonard Rossiter literally sweats to endow it with individuality. But his labour is impotent...The effect, on the whole, is undisciplined and vulgar." - Irving Wardle, The Times.

May 1971
Written by Peter Ransley
Directed by Vivian Matalon
Performed at the Hampstead Theatre Club, London

The story of Barker (Rossiter), a ventriloquist who is disabled from the waist down, but who is still sexually active.

Leonard played the role of Barker, the ventriloquist.

Critical Reviews:
"Barker is a character squarely within Rossiter's grotesque range and comes over with rasping comedy, physical pain and humiliation, and no trace of irrelevant sympathy." - Irving Wardle, The Times.
"Leonard Rossiter's display of gloating, sneering, leering humanity, needed to protect himself from being smothered by pity, is brilliantly irascible and funny." - Milton Shulman, Evening Standard.

Notes: The play also starred Pauline Yates, who was later to play Reginald Perrin's wife Elizabeth in The Fall & Rise of Reginald Perrin in 1976-79.

Richard III
September 1971
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Peter McEnery
Performed at The Playhouse, Nottingham

The story of Richard, Duke of Gloucester's ambitions for the English throne, and his lies cheating and murders to get him there.

Leonard played the role of Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

Leonard's Role Remembered:
"It was this display of energy [Leonard as Arturo Ui] that prompted me to ask him to play Richard III. With all the great challenging roles, regardless of individual or directorial interpretation, Olympian energy above all is required. Leonard had it." - Peter McEnery, director.

Critical Reviews:
"Leonard Rossiter, in a vividly macabre performance, gives full rein to his graveyard humour. He's not much deformed - a slight hump at the shoulder, a stiff-kneed walk - but the quizzical turnings of the head, the swivelling of the eyes, the knowing nods, suggest a deformity of spirit more alarming than any physical defect." - B. A. Young, Financial Times.
"Gradually but inevitably the unctuous dissembler turns into a raving psychopath but on the way he garners more laughs than any Richard I have seen. Mr. Rossiter assumes the stance of a maimed hero; he stalks about, lurches, and jerks his head bird-like from side to side. He is often quite still, and occasionally erupts into dangerous rages." - Frank Marcus, Sunday telegraph.

Pictures: Leonard with Louise Breslin as Lady Anne; the cover of the theatre programme.

The Caretaker
March 1972
Written by Harold Pinter
Directed by Christopher Morahan
Performed at the Mermaid Theatre, London

Into his derelict household shrine Aston (Jeremy Kemp) brings Davies, a tramp (Rossiter) - but a tramp with pretensions, even if to the world he may be a pathetic old creature. All that is left of his past now is the existence in Sidcup of some papers, papers that will prove exactly who he is and enable him to start again. Aston, too, has his dreams: he has always been good with his hands and there is so much to do in the house. Aston's hopes are tied to his flash brother Mick's (John Hurt); he has aspirations to live in a luxurious apartment.

Leonard played the role of Davies, the tramp.

Leonard's Role Remembered:
"Leonard's Davies, grotesque yet realistic, was wonderfully coherent in his incoherence; and...he was always very funny." - Robert Tanitch.
"He combined a restless energy with a comic invention...Leonard...worked at the play, worrying the part like a dog with a bone, searching, trying, rejecting, perfecting business and character, never putting himself before the play or the other actors...till in the end he had built a memorable, funny, dangerous, revealing and moving portrait..." - Christopher Morahan, director.
"..He had the most miraculous memory. I often talked to him about this and he agreed what a Heaven-sent gift it was. 'You've got to be word perfect, but then let the stuff come out of your mouth as if you are only just thinking of it.' He carried this to an extreme point often in the most difficult comedy sequences, to the point of overlapping his cue. I can remember very few actors who'd taken such risks. He was also, of course, a man of fine intellect and sharp wit." - Bernard Miles.

Critical Reviews:
"It is a peach of a performance easily holding comparison with the original production, and well worth anybody's money." - Peter Lewis, Daily Mail.
"Rossiter, especially, on whom everything depends, is continuously fascinating to watch. Every look, every gesture, reveals the comical agony of unease in a bullying nature stranded without leverage." - Derek Mahon, The Listener.

The Banana Box
May 1973
Written by Eric Chappell
Directed by David Scace
Performed at the Hampstead Theatre Club

As the play which spawned the sitcom Rising Damp, The Banana Box is included in Rigsby Online.

The Banana Box
June 1973
Written by Eric Chappell
Directed by David Scace
Performed at the Apollo Theatre, London

As the play which spawned the sitcom Rising Damp, The Banana Box is included in Rigsby Online.

Abel, Where Is Your Brother?
May 1974
Written by Julius Edliss, translated by Ariadne Nicolaeff
Directed by Amos Mokadi
Performed at the Act-Inn Theatre Club, Piccadilly, London

The story of the chance meeting of two ex-Prisoners Of War, twenty-five years after the end of the war.

Leonard played the role of Narrator and I.

Leonard's Role Remembered:
"Leonard's sense of rhythm in playing was finely tuned but also (in my experience) very accommodating... My final memory of this production was tragically prophetic - Leonard's character dies on stage of a heart attack at the end of the play." - Jerome Willis, co-star (pictured).

Critical Reviews:
"There is that rare actor Leonard Rossiter whose faces and voices integrate to give an amazing idea of wry revenging energy and past pain." - Nicholas de Jongh, The Guardian.
"...A very model of quiet obduracy as he nurses vinegary remembrances and flicks at his spiritual inferior with a contemptuousness born of absolute conviction." - Michael Coveney, Financial Times.

Picture: The three stars of the play - Leonard, Rula Lenska and Jerome Willis.

The Looneys
October 1974
Written by John Antrobus
Directed by Michael Rudman
Performed at the Hampstead Theatre Club, London

Two lunatics, Brian (Rossiter) and Eric (Colin Welland, pictured) escape from an asylum and hole themselves up in the Gosport household - an unlikely mix of characters who are just as mad as the two now holding them hostage.

Leonard played the role of Brian.

Critical Reviews:
"Leonard Rossiter gives his familiar slack-jawed, seedy, shambling performance as a paranoiac who raped and killed his sister." - Milton Shulman, Evening Standard.
"Seeing Leonard Rossiter -surely one of the greatest comic talents - trying to squeeze a little humour and psychological subtlety out of his crassly-written part made one weep." - Richard O'Keefe, Plays and Players.

A Christmas Carol
December 1975
Written by Charles Dickens
Directed by Michael Fabian
Performed throughout the UK on tour

The classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his miserliness.

Leonard played the role of Ebeneezer Scrooge

The Frontiers Of Farce: The Purging; The Singer
October 1976, then February 1977
Written by Georges Feydeau and Frank Wedekind, adapted by Peter Barnes.
Directed by Peter Barnes
Performed at The Old Vic (1976), then Criterion Theatre (1977), London.

One of Leonard's great theatre performances, The Frontiers of Farce has a special section on this web site.

December 1976
Written by Moliere, translated by David Thompson
Directed by David Thompson
Performed at The Greenwich Theatre, London

In public, Tartuffe (Rossiter) affects every pious excellence; so virtuous is he that every form of pleasure is anathema to him. M. Orgon (Ewan Hooper, pictured), a rich merchant, is completely taken in. Inviting Tartuffe to his home, he watches approvingly while Tartuffe 'reforms' his whole family. The besotted merchant even plans to give Tartuffe his fortune and his daughter's hand in marriage. Finally, Mme Orgon exposes Tartuffe for the rogue he is - and M. Orgon for the gullible fool he has been.

Leonard played the role of Tartuffe.

Leonard's Role Remembered:
"...There was something almost reptilian about the way he crept round the room, as if he were already in possession and taking an inventory. The performance was all the more sinister for being so quiet." - Robert Tanitch.

Critical Reviews:
"It is an uncommonly relaxed performance for this explosive actor, and also one of his best." - Irving Wardle, Times.
"Studiously this clever actor underplays the villainy, but there is never any mistaking that he is a devious, insinuating toad. For toad, also read spider, shark and rooting hog." - Felix Barker, Evening News.

Notes: Leonard resumed this role in June 1983 at The Churchill Theatre, Bromley.

The Immortal Haydon
November 21st 1977, then January 1978
Written by John Wells, devised by Julius Gellner
Directed by Alan Strachan
Performed at the Mermaid Theatre, London (1977), then Greenwich Theatre (1978)

One of Leonard's great theatre performances, The Immortal Haydon has a special section on this web site.

February 1979
Written by David Turner
Directed by Leonard Rossiter and Alan Strachan
Performed at Greenwich Theatre and on tour.

One of Leonard's great theatre performances, Semi-Detached has a special section on this web site.

Make And Break
March 1980, then May 1980
Written by Michael Frayn
Directed by Michael Blakemore
Performed at The Lyric Theatre, London (March), then Theatre Royal, London (May)

The story of Garrard (Rossiter), the managing director of a company that manufactured moving walls and doors. A compulsive salesman, obsessed with his work and efficiency, he has little regard for anything or anyone else, including his family.

Leonard played the role of Garrard.

Leonard's Role Remembered:
"...But Garrard, for all his hyperactivity, is dead - spiritually dead; and it was this emptiness which Leonard emphasised, initially so wittily, and finally so movingly, just as much as all the frenetic obsession with efficiency." - Robert Tanitch.
"He created a character who could be still and watchful, but whose whole personality was charged with the ceaseless and obsessive working of the mind within...He portrayed obsession so brilliantly because obsession comes from underground, and he knew how to work underground." - Michael Frayn, author.
"...He rehearsed perfectly and was one of the most exciting actors to play with I've ever known. He exuded power and a sort of sexual energy and I continued to be rather frightened of him offstage." - Prunella Scales, co-star (pictured).
"Len was a mercurial actor - the reactions were swift and accurate...It is no wonder that squash was a game he could play with the best and play to win." - James Grout.

Critical Review:
"Shedding his familiar manic mannerisms he gives a brilliant study of a man in the grip of an idee fixe." - Michael Billington, The Guardian.

The Rules Of The Game
September 1982, then December 1982
Written by Luigi Pirandello, translated by Robert Rietty and Noel Gregeen
Directed by Anthony Quayle
Performed at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham (August), Theatre Royal, London (September), then Phoenix Theatre, London (December).

A sardonic comedy of manners and honour. A bourgeois husband, Leone Gala (Rossiter), has to fight to keep his wife Sylvia Gala from being stolen away by her lover. A duel is ordered, in which she thinks her husband will be killed, but the lover is the one who dies.

Leonard resumed the role of Leone Gala. He had previously played this role in 1966

Leonard's Role Remembered:
"Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. There was a kind of inner concentration and focus. He was definite. He was not malleable. He knew his own mind...It was a very rare talent. I had the most enormous admiration. A great actor." - Anthony Quayle, director.

Critical Review:
"Few actors other than Mr. Rossiter could hold for so long the pause at the final curtain, while a whole succession of emotions pass across Leone's face: mockery, vengefulness, pain, resignation, triumph. This is great acting of a kind rarely to be seen." - Francis King, Sunday Telegraph.

June 1983
Written by Moliere, adapted by Miles Malleson
Directed by Peter Coe
Performed at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley.

In public, Tartuffe (Rossiter) affects every pious excellence; so virtuous is he that every form of pleasure is anathema to him. M. Orgon (Ewan Hooper, pictured), a rich merchant, is completely taken in. Inviting Tartuffe to his home, he watches approvingly while Tartuffe 'reforms' his whole family. The besotted merchant even plans to give Tartuffe his fortune and his daughter's hand in marriage. Finally, Mme Orgon exposes Tartuffe for the rogue he is - and M. Orgon for the gullible fool he has been.

Leonard resumed his role of Tartuffe.

March 1984, then September 1984
Written by Joe Orton
Directed by Jonathan Lynn
Performed at the Ambassador's Theatre, London, then the Lyric Theatre, London

One of Leonard's great theatre performances - and sadly, his last, Loot has a special section on this web site.



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Text (c) Paul Fisher
Pictures (c) their respective owners.