Michael Atkinson (1927-) Actor and director. Perhaps the most respected and versatile English actor of his generation in the country.
Born in England on 25 March 1927, where he was also educated.
He attended the full-time acting course at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) from 1944 to 1946.
He went on to work with numerous repertory companies throughout the UK, delivering groundbreaking performances on stage, including the West End, as well as radio, television and film. He worked with the Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespeare Company playing various small roles and later he toured with Peter Brook's production of Measure for Measure, went to Canada with the London Theatre Company and became leading actor at the Swansea Repertory Company. Starred in a number of West End plays. For television he worked with the BBC, ABC and Thames TV. His film credits include Room at the Top with Simone Signoret and Laurence Harvey.
In 1966 he came to South Africa for the title role in Macbeth at Maynardville. Many other attractive offers, both as an actor and a director, followed, keeping him in continuous work in theatre and on radio in South Africa until 1972. He briefly returned to England but was again invited back in 1974 for London Assurance (PACT). He obtained permanent residency and settled in Cape Town. From here on he worked for a range of companies across the country for 40 years. In this time he won a large number of awards, including the Fleur du Cap as Best Leading Actor in 1979, 1984, 1995, 1997. On Sunday, 25 March 2007 a gala event, aptly entitled Atkinson at 80 – The Importance of Being Michael, was offered at the Baxter Theatre Centre (directed by Ralph Lawson and starring numerous of Michael's friends from the theatre) to celebrate his 80th birthday as well as 60 glorious years in theatre and show business and 40 years on South African stages.
Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance
His South African performances over the 40 years include Macbeth, (Maynardville, 1966) Hostile Witness (Johannesburg REPS, 1967), The Lion in Winter (196*), Macbeth, (Maynardville,1973,The Lady's not for Burning (Langford-Inglis and NAPAC, 196/7*), Double Edge (Toerien-Firth, 1976), My Fair Lady (PACT, 1977), Death of a Salesman (1979), The Relapse (1979), The Shadow Box (1980), Faust (1980), The Dresser (Ronald Harwood, 1980), Amadeus (1981), The Rivals (PACT, 1983), The Business of Murder (Pieter Toerien,1986), The Madness of King George (1995), Taking Sides (Fleur du Cap, Best Actor) (1997),
The Importance of Being Earnest, 1970 and 1988.
His directing credits include London Assurance (PACT, 1977), The Lady's not for Burning (PACT, 1982), The Rivals (PACT, 1983), The Entertainer (PACT, 1983), William Luce’s Zelda (1987), My Astonishing Self (NAPAC, 1987), Sleuth (Pieter Toerien, 1988), A Walk in the Woods (Market Theatre, 1989), My Fair Lady (CAPAB, 1989/90), The Best of Friends (1993), Yours Anne (1994), and Travels With My Aunt (Pieter Toerien, 1994).
He has also done many one-man shows, notably hugely successful versions of The Importance of Being Oscar (Baxter Theatre, 1984, Fleur du Cap Award) and Beecham (Company of Four, 1984). He last performed at the Baxter Theatre in 2000 in Talk of the Devil, after which he retired.
Quoted from the programme of My Astonishing Self in 1987: 'A former member of England's Royal Shakespeare Company, Michael first appeared in South Africa in 1967. He has since become well-known for his versatility in classical and modern theatre, both as a performer and director. His most notable successes include such diverse roles as Sir Harcourt Courtley in London Assurance, Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman (for which he received the Fleur du Cap Best Actor award), Professor Higgins in the musical My Fair Lady, Sir in The Dresser, Sir Thomas Beecham in Beecham, Attahualpa in The Royal Hunt of the Sun and Joseph Stalin in Master Class. He has twice received the Three Leaf Award for Best Actor as Henry IV in Pirandello's The Emperor and as the Player King in Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. In 1984 he again received the Fleur du Cap Award for best actor for his one-man show The Importance of Being Oscar. He was awarded the Artes Award for best radio performance for The Father by Strindberg and a Vita Award for his portrayal of Salieri in Amadeus. Michael recently branched out into television directing and has completed three productions for SATV, one of which stars Moira Lister in a one-woman play by Ronnie Harwood called The Guests to be shown later this year. His television appearances include the actor in A Circle of Sun, as The Master Builder by Ibsen and as Claudius in Hamlet. Last year, in a complete departure from his usual theatre work, he played and sang (with tremendous success) the Modern Major General in NAPAC's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. This is Michael's fifth production for Pieter Toerien, the others being the thriller Double Edge, Amadeus in which he played Salieri, The Business of Murder and The Decorator. He has just finished a Durban season playing Professor Higgins in an entirely new production of My Fair Lady for NAPAC'.
He won a large number of awards, including the Fleur du Cap Theatre Award as Best Leading Actor in 1979, 1984, 1995, 1997.
He has twice received the Three Leaf Award for Best Actor as Henry IV in Pirandello's The Emperor and as the Player King in Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. In 1984 he again received the Fleur du Cap Award for best actor for his one-man show The Importance of Being Oscar. He was awarded the Artes Award for best radio performance for The Father by Strindberg and a Vita Award for his portrayal of Salieri in Amadeus.
He was honured with the Molteno Gold Medal Award for his services to South African Theatre.
Programme of My Astonishing Self in 1987.
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