Ian Mullins, the champion of Repertory Theatre in Farnham, died peacefully in
hospital in Christchurch, New Zealand on Sunday, November 9th. He was 85.
Ian first came to Farnham in 1970 when he took over as Director of the Castle
Theatre; later he oversaw the move of the company into the new Redgrave Theatre when it opened in May 1974.
Born in Chislehurst in Kent in 1929, Ian was educated at Gresham's School, Holt, Norfolk. The school was evacuated to Newquay in Cornwall during the Second World War, between 1940 and 1944. He retained an abiding love for the county.
At the age of 17 he played King Lear at school, prompting his English Master, Mr Taylor, to suggest that he should become an actor.
After National Service, he enrolled at the Central School of Speech Training and
Dramatic Art which, at that time, was housed at the Royal Albert Hall. He won the
Gold Medal at the end of his final term and was fortunate enough to be accepted
into Anthony Quayle’s Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company in Stratford as “the youngest spear carrier in the company" - specifically for their 1952 Australia/New Zealand tour of As You Like It, Henry IV (Pt 1) and Othello.
Ian returned to Stratford after the tour for a further season; and was then out of work “quite a lot”, though he did join Caryl Jenner's company for a small-scale tour of Our Town, during which he met and later married the actress Helen Dorward.
Spells at repertory theatres around the country followed, including seasons at
Guildford and Salisbury. He approached Reggie Salberg, the General Manager at
Salisbury, asking to direct a play. Salberg took a chance on him and Ian finished
off his four years there in the combined role of actor and director.
From this development he took the post of Director of the Everyman Theatre in
Cheltenham in 1961, where he stayed for almost seven years, leaving only under protest after a bitter showdown with the Cheltenham Theatre Board.
He then freelanced, directing at RADA and acting in Leicester. One of the plays he appeared in was Dennis Potter's Son of Man, which transferred to the Round House in London.
Ian arrived at the Castle Theatre, Farnham in 1970 and soon found favour with local audiences with his wide choice of plays, ranging from the classics to new plays, some specially commissioned. He continued this policy at the Redgrave which he ran successfully until January 1977.
His next residency was at the Mercury Theatre in Auckland in New Zealand.
On his return to the U.K. three years later, he ran the Horseshoe Theatre Company in Basingstoke for eight years, a tenure which he later described in 2004 as “among the most challenging and rewarding of my 55 years in the theatre”.
From 1990 he became a freelance Actor/Director again; directing, for example,
The Taming of the Shrew, Twelth Night and Julius Caesar for the Farnham Shakespeare Company; and The Caretaker for Good Guys Productions at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre Woking.
In 1998 he was galvanised into action when, much to his horror, Waverley Borough Council closed the Redgrave Theatre. Convinced that bad management had been the problem, and that the theatre was still a viable proposition, he formed the New Farnham Repertory Company and tried to persuade Waverley to give him a short lease on the building at no public cost. Waverley refused.
In 2000 his company produced a successful season of 3 plays in the Library
Garden. Several seasons followed, performed either in St. Andrew's Church or in
a tent beside the Redgrave. The irony was not lost on the audiences!
Ian retired after his production of Jane Eyre in 2005; and the following year he
and Helen, who had given many fine performances in his and other people's
productions, moved to New Zealand to be near their sons, James and Charles
and their families.
Ian Mullins was a good, gentle, kind man who was much loved by the colossal
number of actors to whom he gave employment. We shall be eternally grateful
to him for allowing us to make our professional debuts in Farnham in 1971.
He made a massive contribution to the theatrical life of our town and he will be
Christopher Reeks and William Whymper December 1st 2014