Saturday, May 1, 2010

David Myerscough-Jones September 15, 1934 - April 21, 2010

Form the timesonline: David Myerscough-Jones, set designer, was born on September 15, 1934. He died of cancer on April 21, 2010, aged 75

David Myerscough-Jones was a talented and versatile set designer who worked with distinction in theatre and opera but will be particularly remembered for helping to bring the work of Benjamin Britten to television.

When John Culshaw became head of music at the BBC in the 1960s he wanted to produce a television version of Britten’s opera Peter Grimes, with the composer conducting. Britten agreed but was unhappy about the acoustics of a television studio and insisted that the recording should be at the newly converted Snape Maltings.

Myerscough-Jones was given the job of designer and, with the Maltings offering limited space, decided to develop a setting that would be adaptable to all the various scenes. He recalled: “I did not want to use a representational seascape but rather, by employing a series of distance abstract images projected on to gauze, invoking an illusion of cloud and water without the use of realism.”

The success of the production, which was broadcast in 1969 with Peter Pears in the title role, led to Myerscough-Jones’s involvement in further television projects with Britten. He devised the setting for Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise, which was recorded at the Maltings with Pears, and Britten at the piano, and went on to design the opera Owen Wingrave, which Britten had written specially for television with the librettist Myfanwy Piper.

It had its premiere on BBC2 in 1971 with a cast headed by Benjamin Luxon, Janet Baker and Heather Harper and was a landmark in making new opera available to a mass audience. Whether it was opera, a Doctor Who adventure or Greek drama, Myerscough-Jones brought to his work a highly individual style but one that was always rooted in the subject.

Arthur David Myerscough-Jones was born in Southport, Lancashire, in 1934. He attended a local school and Southport School of Art, and then the Central School of Art, London, where he took a diploma with distinction in stage design. He began his career at the Glasgow Citizens Theatre, 1958-60, before joining Bernard Miles’s Mermaid Theatre in the City of London, where he was resident designer for five years. Among several notable projects was Euripides’ The Bacchae, with Barrie Ingham and Joss Ackland and music by Alexander Goehr.

He moved into television in the mid-1960s, working for the BBC on a range of projects including The Expert, which starred Marius Goring as a pathologist, the clerical comedy All Gas and Gaiters and the Paul Temple crime series. In 1968 he was assigned to a Doctor Who adventure, The Web of Fear, which included scenes in the London Underground.

London Transport was approached for permission to film but asked such a high fee for a short shoot that it was decided to replicate the Tube with a studio set. Myerscough-Jones’s design was so convincing that London Transport thought it was the real thing and complained to the BBC that filming had gone ahead without permission or payment.

Either side of his collaborations with Britten Myerscough-Jones designed two more Doctor Who stories, The Ambassadors of Death and Day of the Daleks, both starring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor. Moving easily from fantasy to fact, Myerscough-Jones applied his skills to Orde Wingate (1976), a much praised biographical study of the wartime Chindit leader, who was played by Barry Foster.

His designs for a 1980 adaptation of Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, with Kate Nelligan as the doomed heroine in a moody evocation of 19th-century Paris, won him a Bafta award. In yet another change of mode he took on two plays in the BBC Shakespeare cycle. He based his sets for All’s Well that Ends Well on paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt and other artists, and his centrepiece for A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a studio pond, around and sometimes in which most of the action took place.

In his review of the Dream Clive James made special mention of Myerscough-Jones’s design, saying it “drew on the whole romantic visual tradition all the way back to Mantegna” and adding, “it worked a treat”. In 1989 Myerscough-Jones adapted Trevor Nunn’s Royal Shakespeare Company production of Othello for television, with Willard White as the Moor and Ian McKellen as Iago.

His biggest project during the 1980s, however, was Sophocles’ Theban trilogy, in a bold modern production from a new translation by Don Taylor. With Michael Pennington as Oedipus, Claire Bloom as Jocasta and a young Juliet Stevenson as Antigone it remains one of the finest television stagings of Greek drama.

From 1990 Myerscough-Jones worked as a freelance. Apart from a BBC film, The Hawk, with Helen Mirren as a woman who suspects her husband of being a serial killer, most of his later work was for the stage and opera house. Among his theatre projects were touring productions

of Shaw’s You Never Can Tell and Cold Comfort Farm and, in 1997, Educating Rita and David Mamet’s Oleanna for the Norwich Playhouse. He worked with John Pascoe, the founder of Bath City Opera, on its first major production, La bohème (1992), with the fastrising American soprano Renée Fleming as Mimì. Fleming so admired Myerscough-Jones’s designs that she included his rendering for Act I in her private collection. He designed several more productions for Pascoe’s company, among them La traviata, The Turn of the Screw, Don Giovanni and Rigoletto. In 1997 his theatre and television designs featured in an exhibition at the Theatre Royal in Bath.

Myerscough-Jones retired to St Omer, Pas de Calais. He is survived by his wife, Pelo, to whom he was married in 1963, and their four children.

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