Wyllie Longmore obituary

My friend Wyllie Longmore, who passed away at age 82, was a valued actor, director, and acting teacher.

Based in Manchester, he has appeared in many stage productions in the North West of Britain, as well as at the National Theater and the Young Vic in London, and film and television work including Jeremy in Love Actually (2003) and Dr McKinnon in Coronation Street (1992).

Among a host of classic roles, he played Ross in Macbeth in Young Vic (1984), and was Antony in Antony and Cleopatra at Manchester’s Contact Theater (1987), and the following year played Torvald in A Doll’s House at Derby Playhouse ( I played Nora) and Banquo in Macbeth at the Royal Exchange. In 1991 he was Doctor Faustus with the Liverpool Everyman.

Wyllie was always aware of the responsibility he felt as a black actor. Speak of Me As I Am, a collaboration between Wyllie and the playwright Maureen Lawrence, who toured from 2013 to 2017, imagined a conversation between himself and Ira Aldridge, the great black American tragedian of the 19th century, who Europe was known for playing the great classic roles, which was much racially abused (as Wyllie did) and largely written out of history. “It’s a meditation on how things have changed,” he said, “and how they haven’t changed.”

As a director, he often sheds new light on previously overlooked plays, including Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, at Manchester’s Contact Theater in 1987. His passion for teaching led him to co-found the Arden School in 1991 or Theatre; he was head of acting there until 2002.

Wyllie was born in Sterling, in the parish of St Ann, Jamaica, to Beryl (née Brown), a dressmaker, and Wyllie Longmore, a laborer for the United Fruit Company. Beryl left for the US at the age of eight and Wyllie was mainly raised by his grandmother. He attended Wolmer’s Boys’ school in Kingston and later worked in a clerical job with the Survey Office before teaching at Ferncourt High School in Claremont.

In 1960 he traveled to Britain and settled in Ealing, West London. He worked for a company that rented bingo and vending machines, and joined the Questors theater student group, where he met Estelle Hampton, a medical examiner turned teacher. They married in 1965. In the same year, he began an acting and drama teaching course at Rose Bruford College in Sidcup, Kent. After graduating in 1968, he taught at the university until 1971, when he went freelance.

In 1977 he was appointed special lecturer in drama at Manchester University.

In the 1980s he joined Leeds Playhouse Theater in Education Company as an actor/teacher, where he embraced the potential of theater to promote social change.

He won two Manchester Evening News theater awards, as best actor for his role in Athol Fugard’s My Children! My Africa! (Bolton Octagon, 1995), and Best Supporting Actor in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom by August Wilson (Royal Exchange, 2006). He has served on the boards of the Royal Exchange Theatre, Contact Theater and HOME Arts Center in Manchester, and became a Fellow of Rose Bruford College in 2016.

Estelle survives him, as do their daughters, Katharine and Jessica, and five grandchildren.

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