Obituary: Rupert Rhymes

Theatres Trust is sad to note the passing of our former Chair and Honorary Life Friend. Theatre historian Mark Fox pays tribute.

Former Chair of Theatres Trust (2002-09) Rupert Rhymes passed away on 12 September 2023 following a major stroke.

A true man of the theatre Rupert’s working life was devoted to the theatre industry and his passion for theatre architecture and performance was recognised in 2002 when he received an OBE for services to theatre and a special Laurence Olivier Award.

After Oxford his career began as Manager of the Old Vic Theatre, then home to the National Theatre. Working alongside Laurence Olivier and some of our greatest actors gave him a firm grounding in navigating the turbulent seas that are the world of theatre politics, remaining a friend of the great and the good whilst ensuring staff and colleagues knew they were valued. He especially encouraged young people beginning their careers.

His next role as Administrator of Sadler’s Well’s Opera instilled in him a love of the London Coliseum later becoming Chairman of The Frank Matcham Society.

Other chairmanships include The Oxford Stage Company and The Bristol Old Vic Board of Trustees and, at various points of his career, he was a Director of The Theatre Investment Fund; The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama; Campaign for the Arts; Headlong Theatre; and The Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson Theatre Collection.

A member of The Garrick Club and the Association of British Theatre Technicians Historic Research Committee his charitable work included being a trustee of The Peggy Ramsay Foundation and on retirement he established The Rupert Rhymes Bursary to aid projects in theatre production or management.

His knowledge and experience of European theatres and opera houses was unrivalled. He was a founding member of PEARLE – Performing Arts Employers Association League Europe,  its President for 11 years, and a great supporter of PERSPECTIV – Association of Historic Theatres in Europe – serving on the Board in recent years.

Rupert uniquely served as both President of The Society of West End Theatre (1979-1982) and as Chief Executive of The Society of London Theatre and The Theatrical Management Association (now UK Theatres) from 1987-2001 and in these roles was responsible for many initiatives that not only reformed the organisations themselves but also led to major improvements across the industry.

A longer piece about Rupert will be published in the Autumn 2023 edition of Theatres Magazine for our supporters.