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.

Contributor

Carole Woddis

The GuardianTramp

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