Jimmy Elidrissi, one of the leading figures of English theatre at the end of the 20th century, passed away yesterday, age 74. He had been suffering from cirrhosis of the liver since 1988, following years of alcoholism. He collapsed last week in the West End and was taken to hospital, but died this afternoon. He was born in Hobart in Tasmania, but moved to London after high school, having fallen for the drama profession. His first play, Guerrilla at the RSC in 1959, was later produced at the Bristol Old Vic, and in 1964 he founded the innovative revival company, The Actors’ Company, with his partner at the time, Michael Frayn. He acted as artistic director from 1973 until 1986, alongside Aileen Collins and David Jenkins, and became artistic director again, in 1984, at the Royal Court Theatre with Christopher Hampton and Tony Kushner. In the 1980s he became a director, with mixed results, at smaller venues. Although his later productions have won critical praise, including The Chalk Garden at Rada, Cavalcade in New York and Hamlet at the National, he is best known in these days for his debut as a director, in 1999, at the Trafalgar Studios in Trafalgar Square. His reputation has in some ways also been boosted by the fact that he played the role of the wry count in Michael Grandage’s production of Twelfth Night at the Royal Court, who is in the play and its sequel, The Chalk Garden, directed by Elidrissi. In the production, set in 19th-century Paris, he was joined by Bruce Willis.
Mr Elidrissi’s reputation was undoubtedly enhanced by the Hollywood films he made. His most well-known and well-received outing was his memorable performance in Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, in which he portrayed a wealthy Scot, Yeaworth, who tries to raise a black pupil at his new boarding school, not in Miss Brodie’s mould. This was followed in 2004 by Carandiru, a bleak Brazilian film set in the 1970s, playing out the events leading up to the slaying of four police officers in one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, after the discovery of two bodies in a shallow grave. Later came Broken Windows, with Tom Wilkinson, in 2005, a film directed by the Oscar-nominated Joe Wright. Finally, he had a small part in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which he played the lascivious publican Mr Harvester. Mr Elidrissi is survived by three children.