Theatre director Michael Boyd has died from cancer. His career took him from training in Moscow to artistic directorships at the Tron Theatre Glasgow (1985-96) and the Royal Shakespeare Company, after joining as an Associate Director in 1996.

As an RSC Associate, he firmly established himself as an outstanding director. A stunning debut in 1994 of John Ford’s The Broken Heart was followed by an unforgettable A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well as the first iteration of the Histories in 2000 – 2001, all in partnership with his long-term artistic collaborator, Tom Piper.

When he took over as Artistic Director of the RSC in July 2002, the Company had just left the Barbican as its London home, and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST) - designed by Elisabeth Scott and opened in 1932 - was about to be demolished and rebuilt. He knew the Company needed radical change and more secure financial fortunes. It was a turning point in the Company’s history.

To lead the Company forward, Michael looked back to Peter Hall’s founding principles in 1961, as well as to his training in Moscow. He set about realising a long-standing artistic ambition to create an ensemble of actors working together over two to three years, with long rehearsal periods that allowed for a deeper understanding of the text, and a rigorous programme of daily voice and movement classes to strengthen the ensembles’ individual and collective artistry.

The work was placed front and centre and was openly recognised as art. This approach was fundamental to Michael’s artistic beliefs, inspired by his time in Russia.

Alongside transforming the rehearsal room, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre was reimagined, creating a more intimate auditorium with a thrust stage. It brought every seat – even “the cheap ones” [Michael Boyd] much closer to the stage, and significantly altered the relationship between actor and audience. 

As building work began, the first ensemble opened a post-industrial temporary theatre, The Courtyard, constructed on the site of The Other Place. The Courtyard Theatre thrived both as a prototype of the new RST as well as a dynamic space in its own right. The eight play Histories Cycle and Matilda The Musical opened there to critical acclaim and sell-out houses.

While running the Company and driving the building project, and consolidating their extraordinary creative partnership, Michael and Tom returned to the Histories - this time directing all eight plays with one ensemble over two and a half years, culminating in “The Glorious Moment”, an opportunity to see all eight plays over one weekend. Michael and Tom were a formidable team.

Together they created visually stunning and sculptural stage vocabulary, embracing height, depth, and stage images that stay in the mind, long after the show had ended. The Histories won four Olivier awards and was described by Michael Billington in The Guardian as “one of the great moments of modern theatre”.

Under Michael’s leadership, the Company enjoyed consistent artistic success and a busy box-office. He recognised that the commercial and international success of Les Miserables, which had been such an integral part of the RSC’s income was waning. With dramaturg Jeanie O’Hare he began the development of Matilda The Musical, initially commissioning writer Dennis Kelly and then inviting Matthew Warchus and Tim Minchin to complete the creative team. 

He championed the musical throughout its development and its success continues to provide financial stability for the Company. When he arrived at the RSC, Michael had a track record in international work, and he passionately believed that the RSC needed to be an international as well as a national theatre company.

The Complete Works Festival and the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival, which reached an estimated 1.5 million people were testament to this bold international agenda. He was equally driven by his belief in the power of theatre, especially Shakespeare, to change young people’s lives. The RSC Stand Up for Shakespeare project, under the stewardship of Jacqui O’Hanlon was of huge importance to him.

Michael believed in the power of the individual and the collective, and he could not have achieved so much without his team. On his shows, along with Tom Piper, he worked consistently with Liz Ranken, John Woolf, Jimmy Jones and Alison Bomber, as well as with producers Denise Wood, Jeremy Adams and Zoe Donegan.  Outside the rehearsal room, his main “partners in crime” were Vikki Heywood, along with Susie Sainsbury, Kate Horton and the late Christopher Bland.

Michael’s tenure created cultural change both backstage and front of house. He shaped a company that everyone, whether theatre artists, production staff or front of house wanted to be a part of, and he made them feel that they were all an integral part of the Company’s success. Over six years as an Associate Director and ten years as Artistic Director, his honesty, kindness and tenacity inspired love, loyalty and admiration from those who worked alongside him.

His decision to invite all front of house staff to take a curtain call, as well as ensuring that every understudy was guaranteed a performance, were just two decisions that reflect his empathy and inclusiveness. His impact on the Company was lasting; on his return to the RSC in 2018 to direct a visceral and dynamic Tamburlaine, the stage crew voluntarily agreed to work beyond their shift, but only because it was for him.

Being Artistic Director of the RSC is a consuming role that Michael committed to wholeheartedly; at the same time, he was even more committed to us, his family. We are in awe of what he achieved as a theatre artist and incredibly grateful to be loved and nurtured by such a wonderful father and husband. We are heartbroken to have lost him so soon.

Tamara Harvey and Daniel Evans, RSC Co-Artistic Directors, said: “Michael’s tenure and work were hugely inspiring and influential. His vision and leadership are still deeply felt in the Company and in the wider world of British and international theatre. We are humbled to walk in his footsteps.”

RSC Artistic Director Emeritus, Gregory Doran, said: “Michael Boyd was a deeply generous collaborator, who unfailingly and without hesitation celebrated and nurtured the “genius” (as he would say) of those creative talents he gathered to the Company, ensuring that the RSC was a genuine ensemble.


“He promoted the work of the Education department, about which he was passionate, applied his rigour to restoring the financial health of the Company with an almost puritanical zeal and brilliantly transformed our stages. Among the many exceptional productions he directed the crowning glory was without doubt his History Cycle, fostered over many years, and climaxing at the Roundhouse in 2008.


“I will always be grateful for the support he showed me personally. He was himself, a quiet unassuming genius.” Susie Sainsbury, RSC Artists’ Associate and former Deputy Chair, added:The loss of Michael Boyd, whose tragically early death has just been announced, is one that will be felt throughout the world of theatre.


“Michael had a knack of going to the heart of a play (and in recent years, opera) and his productions had a clarity and edge that gave audiences a full and rounded experience. His time at the RSC was marked by the boldness of his programming - when asked why he wanted to do the Complete Works Festival he said simply “Because we can …” - and by a clear demonstration of the importance of “Company” in the way the RSC operates. With Vikki Heywood at his side to curb his wilder plans, he programmed exciting seasons, brought in talented directors and actors and helped them develop.


“He was far-sighted in his support for projects as diverse as “Matilda The Musical”, and his acclaimed Histories season, and at the same time was involved in all the details of the vast project that built The Courtyard Theatre and brought the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre into life. Michael was a fascinating, perceptive director who coaxed stunning performances from his actors; rigorous, irreverent, clear sighted, stubborn, funny and determined he was a remarkable, understated genius.


“He will be missed terribly and our thoughts go to Caroline and the family!”