Bob Carlton obituary

Other lives: Playwright and director best known for Return to the Forbidden Planet

Bob Carlton, who has died aged 67 after suffering from cancer, was a writer and director who shared Dennis Potter’s faith in the power of popular song within drama, most famously expressed in his Return to the Forbidden Planet, which won the Olivier award for best new musical in 1989. Billed as “Shakespeare’s forgotten rock’n’roll masterpiece”, it grafted nearly 30 great hits on to plot and dialogue based on The Tempest.

As an Arts Council trainee director, Bob had the office next to me at the Belgrade theatre, Coventry, in 1975. Unusually for the creative side of any rep, he actually came from Coventry, where his parents, Reg and Nancy, kept a post office and a trade unionist uncle was reputed to be a card-carrying communist.

He attended King Henry VIII grammar school and then studied drama at Hull University, after working in stage management in Guildford. At the Belgrade, he and I put together a brief biography of George Orwell (featuring David Calder) to go with a cut-down production of Animal Farm. Bob could be explosive in argument but was infectiously good company and a steadfast friend.

Spells followed in Lancaster and York (at the Theatre Royal, he was among the first to employ Gary Oldman) and he took over London Bubble theatre, which toured the outer boroughs in a tent, offering productions aimed at younger audiences and non-theatregoers, from its founder Glen Walford.

Lacking suitable scripts, he wrote Return to the Forbidden Planet, pioneering the actor/musician show. He then followed Walford to the Liverpool Everyman with Jack and the Beanstalk, the rock’n’roll pantomime. There were London runs in 1992 for From a Jack to a King (based on Macbeth) and in 1993 for Lust, a Heather Brothers musical based on Wycherley’s The Country Wife.

On television, between 1984 and 1987, he was a staff director for Brookside, where he met the actor Caroline Wildi. They married in 1989 and had a daughter, Emily.

Bob’s commitment to popular theatre resumed at the Queen’s theatre, Hornchurch, east London, which he ran from 1997 to 2014, winning improved backing from the Arts Council, the local authority and audiences, retaining Shakespeare, Brecht and pop music as his guides. A lifelong socialist, he supported Soho neighbours in fighting property development threatening enforced relocation.

His marriage to Caroline ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wife, Sally Carpenter, whom he married in 2012, by Emily, and by his stepson, Jake.

Paul Allen

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Robert Prior-Pitt obituary
Other lives: Actor, director and drama lecturer who helped to revive the ancient Coventry Mystery Plays

Mike Torbe

17, Feb, 2020 @3:02 PM

Article image
Herbert Kretzmer obituary
Journalist who found fame and fortune when he wrote the English lyrics for Les Misérables

Michael Coveney

14, Oct, 2020 @2:30 PM

Article image
Jerry Herman obituary
American composer and lyricist best known for Mame, Hello, Dolly! and La Cage aux Folles

Michael Coveney

29, Dec, 2019 @1:30 PM

Article image
Trevor Peacock obituary
Actor and songwriter best known for playing Jim Trott in the BBC’s comedy series The Vicar of Dibley

Michael Coveney

09, Mar, 2021 @4:48 PM

Article image
Rachelle Delarosa obituary
Other lives: Singer in West End musicals in the 1960s and early 70s

James Watkins

29, Jan, 2020 @3:50 PM

Article image
Penny Walker obituary
Other lives: Peace activist who began the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre and worked tirelessly to make the city a welcoming place

David Fish

03, Jun, 2021 @4:17 PM

Article image
Carol Channing obituary
Star of stage and screen best known for her award-winning performance in the title role of Hello, Dolly!

Ronald Bergan

15, Jan, 2019 @2:48 PM

Article image
Maggie Fitzgibbon obituary
Star of West End musicals and light entertainment who appeared in the TV series The Newcomers and Manhunt

Anthony Hayward

19, Jun, 2020 @10:29 AM

Article image
Terrence McNally obituary
US playwright and librettist best known for Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ragtime and Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune

Michael Coveney

25, Mar, 2020 @1:50 PM

Article image
Tony Britton obituary
Stage and screen actor who was a West End stalwart, became a film star in the 1950s and then a TV sitcom favourite in the 70s and 80s

Michael Coveney

22, Dec, 2019 @3:01 PM