Alan Russell

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Alan Russell. Theatre Consultant

Alan Russell, who has died of cancer aged 78, was the production manager at the Birmingham Rep when its new theatre on Broad Street was being planned in the early 1970s. Theatre Projects Consultants had been appointed to oversee the project, and Alan joined their design team in 1971. I joined TPC two years later, and he and I soon became close colleagues and great friends.

A theatre consultant may be involved in planning a new theatre or resuscitating an old one; the design of a theatre space fixed or flexible; or the design and specification of theatre technical equipment. The role varies depending on the relationships forged with the user and with the architect. There can be trouble with either an over ambitious publicly funded body or an artistic director with too many ideas. Support too eagerly a distinguished architect who has never built a theatre and you risk getting a theatre space that fails actor and audience, despite being set in a beautiful building.

Alan had the necessary qualities in abundance: a show business background; inexhaustible energy; knowledge of tried and tested solutions; an inquiring mind; and the capacity to create working relationships on each project and to involve colleagues at Theatre Projects who had complementary qualities.

He worked on many UK theatres, as well as on arts centres in Macao and Singapore. There was an annus mirabilis – over six months in 1994 Alan and I completed our double acts on two great theatres, the new Glyndebourne and the rebuilding of every part of the Edinburgh Festival theatre save for the original auditorium. Both were completed on time and on budget.

After his retirement in 2011, Alan became treasurer and secretary of the Institute of Theatre Consultants. In 2018 he edited and designed a large and lavishly illustrated book presenting 112 projects by members completed all over the world during the preceding four years.

Alan was born in Gosport, Hampshire, the son of Cyril Russell, who worked for the local authority, and Dorothy (nee Eyles). He studied electrical engineering at University College London but got distracted by student theatre in his third year and decided not to take a degree. He joined Birmingham Rep in 1966 as chief electrician, and a year later became production manager.

At UCL he met Jo Hart, who had exchanged studying the law for the wardrobe. They married in 1968, and had two sons, Ben and Thomas, who, when young, if asked what Dad did in the theatre, would answer “spannering” – which is not a bad description of Alan’s talent for getting new theatres sorted.

Outside work, Alan enjoyed sailing and good burgundy.

He is survived by Jo, Ben and two grandchildren, Anna and Joe. Thomas predeceased him.

Obituary by Iain Mackintosh