Roger Chapman obituary

Other lives: Touring director at the National for 16 years who took the very best of British theatre around the globe

My friend Roger Chapman, who has died aged 77 from heart failure, was a director and producer who made a huge impact on international theatre touring. In the 1980s, while based in Australia, Roger was one of the first to take work into and out of China. From 1988 until 2004, he was the National Theatre’s touring director, working under Richard Eyre and Trevor Nunn, and taking the very best of British theatre to the regions and around the globe.

Roger was born in Hull, east Yorkshire, the only son of Elsie (nee Thompson) and Arthur Chapman, an ambulance driver. From Mallet Lambert school, Hull, he went on to study drama at the Rose Bruford College in Sidcup, London.

After graduating, he embarked on a career in the theatre in education movement of the 1960s, founding teams at Coventry Belgrade theatre, then Bolton Octagon, Leeds Playhouse – where he met the producer Isobel Hawson, whom he married in 1975 – and Newcastle Playhouse. At Nottingham Playhouse, he directed Christmas and children shows for Eyre, then its artistic director.

In 1976 Roger was invited to direct a show for the Adelaide international festival of arts. He was then appointed to an Australian government task force for arts in education, and set up the Magpie Theatre company for young people. As director of Youth Performing Arts, South Australia, from 1980, he created the Carclew Youth Performing Arts Centre, and was the driving force behind the Australian international puppet festival held in Adelaide in 1983.

He travelled to China in early 1982 to negotiate for the Hunan Puppet Troupe to be part of the festival programme. Then, on a visit to Hanoi, he saw a performance of the then unknown Vietnamese Water Puppets, and arranged for them to take part in the Adelaide festival in 1988. They were subsequently taken to London in 1993 by Lift – the London international festival of theatre.

In 1988, Eyre asked Roger to join the National, where he remained as touring director for 16 years. Roger was also an independent producer – with Playful Productions, Sir Peter Hall Productions and his own company, On Tour Ltd. He was European consultant for the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York and the Isango ensemble in Cape Town, a member of the Council of Regional Theatres and one of the Arts Council drama panel regulars, as well as a founding member of the Standing Conference of Young People’s Theatre.

An avid Hull City football fan, Roger was a lover of fine food and wine, and a great storyteller, whose friends and family were central to his life.

Roger is survived by Isobel, their children, Joe, Sam and Amy, and six grandchildren.


Carole Woddis

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Alan Drury obituary
Playwright known for his work for the National, the York Theatre Royal and the Royal Court in the 70s and 80s

Stephen Wyatt

26, Jun, 2019 @5:25 PM

Article image
Jennifer Piercey obituary
Other lives: Actor who worked with Alan Ayckbourn and appeared on TV in The Two of Us

Alan Strachan

01, May, 2022 @4:22 PM

Article image
Annie Wigzell obituary
Other lives: Casting director at the National Theatre from its early days at the Old Vic

Nick Wigzell

01, Jan, 2020 @5:11 PM

Article image
Mervyn Willis obituary
Other lives: Artistic director of the Open Air theatre, Regent’s Park, London, in the 1970s

Gary Yershon

30, Jun, 2019 @4:45 PM

Article image
Duncan Chapman obituary
Other lives: Office manager for Tessa Jowell MP who helped to save Dulwich Hamlet Football Club

Andy Burnham

19, Dec, 2021 @5:15 PM

Article image
John Shrapnel obituary
Actor known for his work at the RSC and National Theatre who brought force and intelligence to stage and screen roles

Michael Coveney

18, Feb, 2020 @1:43 PM

Article image
Sir Antony Sher obituary
Celebrated stage actor who gave extraordinary performances in a long career with the Royal Shakespeare Company

Michael Coveney

03, Dec, 2021 @2:21 PM

Article image
Roger FitzGerald obituary
Other lives: Painter and architect who designed an extension to the Palace of Westminster

James FitzGerald

26, Aug, 2022 @4:16 PM

Article image
Roger Sales obituary
Other lives: First professor of English studies at the University of East Anglia

Jessica Smith

19, May, 2022 @9:54 AM

Article image
Roger Bugler obituary
Other lives: Engineer with a lifelong interest in railways, in particular signal boxes

Mollie Arbuthnot

15, Jun, 2022 @3:46 PM