Stratford's Neville dead at 86

John Neville tackled a one-act play by Samuel Beckett. (QMI AGENCY)

John Neville tackled a one-act play by Samuel Beckett. (QMI AGENCY)

John Kastner, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:48 AM ET

STRATFORD, ON - John Neville's contributions to the Stratford Festival can be measured in many ways, but the person who perhaps worked most closely with him during his tenure here said Neville was, in some ways, the perfect artistic director.

Neville died on Saturday. He was 86.

After a tenure at the Nepture Theatre in Halifax, Neville moved to Stratford in 1983. He worked with the young company and appeared as an actor in 1983 and 1984. In 1986 he replaced John Hirsch as the Festival's artistic director.

"The Stratford Festival goes through cycles," said Gary Thomas, the general manager of the Stratford Festival during Neville's reign, in a telephone interview Sunday night. "Those cycles are tied directly to the economy.

"We had just gone through a difficult period and John was very aware of the finances of the Festival and was keen on getting things turned around. He knew the Festival had to be financially successful to survive."

In his first year as artistic director, the Stratford Festival trimmed $800,000 off its accumulated deficit. Neville was also the first artistic director to see ticket sales of over $5 million.

Thomas said he and Neville became fast friends and colleagues.

"John and I had a great relationship and I am very sorry to hear of his death," Thomas said. "For a general manager, he was the perfect artistic director.

"He was artistically brilliant and you could count on him to put together great plays, but he was also fiscally responsible. The Festival had some outstanding years under John, especially the last two."

In 1988, the Stratford Festival posted a surplus of $1.7 million and reached a near-record 534,679 patrons.

A veteran of London's West End, Broadway, the National Arts Centre, Neville completed his commitment at the end of 1989 and then turned down an opportunity to extend his stay with the Festival.

From 1995-98, Neville had a recurring role in hit TV series "The X-Files", playing the part of the "Well Manicured Man."

He received the Order of the British Empire in 1965 and was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2006.

He is survived by his wife and six children. A private funeral with be held, with plans for a memorial in the new year.


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