My friend Jack Edwards, who has died aged 77 after suffering from Lewy body dementia, was an actor, dancer, tailor and costumier specialising in historical costume, and a stage director and drama teacher. He was internationally known as a director of baroque opera, with an extraordinary ability to bring a vanished theatrical world vividly to life.
He was born in Portscatho on the Cornish Roseland peninsula, where his parents, Hilda and William, ran the village pub. After Truro school, where he won an acting prize, Jack started an apprenticeship at Axminster Carpets, before moving to London to train as a tailor. His experience with amateur dramatic companies in London and during national service stood him in good stead when he joined the historical dance company Nonsuch soon after it was formed in 1965.
He was one of its leading dancers, contributed readings to its shows and directed many of them. He also made many of the beautiful costumes worn by the company. His remarkable practical knowledge of the history of costume often enabled him to date paintings more accurately than art historians. For many years he worked with Ba Higgins, making costumes for Covent Garden and for films, including Barry Lyndon (1975) and The Last Emperor (1987).
As musical director of Nonsuch, I collaborated with Jack in the early 1970s, and our work developed through recitals of words and music exploring historical themes. In 1981 we formed a company specialising in early English opera with the designer Robin Linklater at Holme Pierrepont Hall near Nottingham, and later as the touring company Opera Restor’d with Jack as its artistic director.
As those who saw his meticulously planned productions of operas such as Luigi Rossi’s Orfeo or Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas will remember, Jack’s style of direction was far removed from the self-indulgent modernist interpretations fashionable today. It involved creating a series of beautiful stage pictures, with gesture and movement in harmony with the music. His increasing reputation led to him directing in Chile, at the Boston early music festival, in Australia, and at the 18th-century theatre at Drottningholm in Sweden.
Jack’s complete Shakespeare sonnets, made for Hyperion in 1986, was one of the first speech recordings on CD. In later years he gave many notable recitals of the sonnets with music by John Dowland played by Paul O’Dette, Fred Jacobs and other leading lutenists. Jack was also an inspiring teacher, on the annual opera course at Little Benslow in Hitchin, at Drama Studio London (where he taught period movement and directed Restoration comedy for 20 years), and elsewhere; he is remembered with great affection by generations of students.
He is survived by his brothers, Frank and Bob.