Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

Robert Blythe 1947-2018

Robert Blythe at the Theatre and Television of Wales

The powerhouse of acting talent that is Port Talbot was commemorated at the Riverfront on January 27th this year, Simon Harris in the lead. Simon Harris was author of a play, at the end of the century, that brought together a small but remarkable company. Michael Sheen was director and Robert Blythe, Rhodri Hugh, Jason Hughes, Richard Mylan and Rhys Ifans the actors.

For Robert Blythe the Donmar Theatre was a far place from the beginning. Angela V John in her book “the Actors’ Crucible” sketches the work before the stage:

“Born in 1947, Blythe began his career as a surveyor. He was miserable. But a girlfriend introduced him to Briton Ferry’s Little Theatre nearby. There he was given a part in a farce “Dry Rot” in what had been an old “Kinema”. Over the next few years he also performed in plays in Taibach and, as he puts it, “I just got bitten really.” Leo Lloyd, who had carefully noted the young actor, encouraged him but it was the teacher and aspirant actor Dennis Burgess who really made the difference: “he was my main inspiration.”

Blythe did his first “Under Milk Wood” with him for the Port Talbot Little Theatre. After long conversations at Burgess’ home Blythe was encouraged to give up his well-paid job and go to drama school (Arts Educational in London) aged 24. He has never looked back, acting across the world in more than a hundred professional plays. As with Hopkins, it was amateur dramatics and local encouragement that made the difference.”

Robert Blythe has featured many times on this site. The memory he leaves is of colour, presence, vigour. In “Deep Cut” (2008) he played the flawed expert witness on armaments. At this stage in his career the parts tended towards the patriarch, roles far from his TV ebullience as Fagin in “High Hopes”.

In Terry Hands’ ferocious “Pygmalion” (2009) he was a Colonel Pickering in tight waistcoat. In “As You Like It” (2012) he was a memorable Duke. In “Taking Steps” (2011) “Robert Blythe is brash, domineering entrepreneur Roland”, ran my review, “big in buckets”- with his penchant for pre-breakfast alcohol. He wears three layers of clothing all with different checks.” In “Arms and the Man” (2014) “Robert Blythe is patriarch Paul twirling his riding crop and little impressed with the innovation of an electric bell to call the servants.” In “Taming of the Shrew (2011) “Robert Blythe as Baptista does a jump in the air at the prospect of his troublesome daughter's betrothal.”

The first tributes online may be read at

Thanks to Angela V John for quotation pages 99-100 from “the Actors’ Crucible.” (Parthian Books 2015)

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
21 November 2018


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