Fond tribute to Bosham-based actor Keith Baxter who has died

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui : Keith Baxter (pic by Manuel Harlan)The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui : Keith Baxter (pic by Manuel Harlan)
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui : Keith Baxter (pic by Manuel Harlan)
Chichester Festival Theatre has led tributes to the actor, director and playwright Keith Baxter who has died at the age of 90.

Keith, who lived in Bosham, first appeared at the CFT in The Country Wife in 1969; his last Chichester appearance was The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui in 2012-13. Alongside his 60 years on stage, Keith will also be remembered for his memoir My Sentiments Exactly (1998) in which he reminisced about work and friendships with giants of the stage including Noel Coward, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and Tennessee Williams.

A spokesman for Chichester Festival Theatre said: “Keith Baxter made memorable and important contributions to Chichester Festival Theatre as actor, playwright and director – one of the very few people to have fulfilled all three roles in the theatre’s history. He first appeared in 1969 opposite Maggie Smith as Horner in The Country Wife, and as Octavius Caesar in Antony and Cleopatra with John Clements and Margaret Leighton, returning in 1974 for Tonight We Improvise. The 1978 season saw him play Lord Illingworth in A Woman of No Importance and Dorante in The Inconstant Couple.

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“In 1982 he wrote the play Cavell, about the life of Edith Cavell, the heroic World War One nurse who helped hundreds of Allied soldiers escape the Germans and was ultimately arrested, tried and executed. The play provided an outstanding role for Joan Plowright as Edith. The 1990s saw Keith Baxter turn his skills to directing, with gripping productions in the Minerva Theatre including Rope with John Barrowman and Anthony Head in 1993, Dangerous Corner with Christopher Timothy and Gayle Hunnicutt in 1994, and After October with Dorothy Tutin in 1997. He returned to the stage as King Henry IV in Chimes at Midnight in 1998 (he had played Prince Hal in the original production and in Orson Welles’s 1965 film). His last appearance here was as The Actor in Jonathan Church’s acclaimed production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui in 2012, which was revived the following year.

“Keith made his home in West Sussex and was a regular visitor to the theatre; he will be fondly remembered by many, and much missed.”

Keith was always a joy to interview, friendly, approachable, full of stories, always effortlessly interesting and always with an international perspective. The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at Chichester Festival Theatre was his first acting job in this country for years.

He said at the time: “The last 12 years I have been working on Broadway and in Washington. I did Woman In Black on Broadway and I have directed a lot of things in Washington DC. But you know I am not telling a fib when I say I am delighted to be back in Chichester.

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“The first play I did here was The Country Wife with Maggie Smith. Really, it’s the place itself that is so great. It’s incredible. I remember Sian Phillips came down and we did A Woman Of No Importance here, and eventually we ceased every day saying how wonderful it was to be here. It’s the audience in Chichester that is quite remarkable. They are literate and they are educated and they really appreciate the theatre.” Just as fondly he remembered his directing credits which included Rope and, at the very last minute after the collapse of the original director, After October: “The cast rallied wonderfully. I loved it, and they were pleased to have a captain of the ship!”