Monday, March 14, 2011

Sean Mathias

Sean Mathias born 14 March 1956

Sean Gerard Mathias is a British theatre director, film director, writer and actor.

He was born in Swansea, south Wales. He is known for directing the film, Bent, and for directing highly acclaimed theatre productions in London, New York, Cape Town, Los Angeles and Sydney. He has also had a notable professional and personal partnership with the actor, Sir Ian McKellen.

Mathias began his career as an actor, making his first appearance on screen in an episode of the cult BBC TV series, Survivors, in 1977 in a small role. In the same year, he played an Irish Guards lieutenant in the film, A Bridge Too Far.

In 1978, Mathias appeared in a production at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, during which time he met the actor, Ian McKellen, who subsequently became his partner of about nine years.

His acting career continued into the 1980s, with minor appearances on TV and in films. Although he made one notable appearance in the film, White Mischief, in 1988 as Gerald Portman, his greatest achievements have come in directing and writing.

Mathias's play, Cowardice, was produced at the Ambassadors Theatre in London in 1983, starring McKellen. Despite poor reviews, he was undeterred and followed it with Infidelities, which premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1985 before transferring to London's Donmar Warehouse. A Prayer For Wings, directed by Joan Plowright, was produced in Edinburgh in 1987 and, after winning a Fringe First awards, transferred to London. Later plays include Poor Nanny (1989), Swansea Boys (1990).

His writing also includes a novel, Manhattan Mourning, published in 1988, and the BBC TV film, The Lost Language of Cranes (1992).

Mathias' career as a theatre director took off in 1988 with Exceptions. The following year, he directed a revival of Bent, the award-winning play by Martin Sherman that had opened on Broadway in 1979 starring McKellen. Performed as a benefit, this performance featured McKellen, Richard E Grant, Ian Charleson and Ralph Fiennes. After receiving critical acclaim, Mathias directed a full run in 1990 with McKellen alongside Paul Rhys and Christopher Eccleston.

Buoyed by this success, Mathias went on to direct hit shows in both London and on Broadway, including Chekhov's Uncle Vanya with McKellen and Antony Sher, Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads (again with McKellen), and Noel and Gertie.

In 1994, Mathias won the London Critics Circle Theatre Award for Best Director for Noel Coward's Design for Living and Jean Cocteau's Les Parents Terribles. This transferred to Broadway in 1995 as Indiscretions. It earned nine Tony Award nominations including Best Director of a Play.

Mathias directed his first Stephen Sondheim musical, A Little Night Music, at the National Theatre in 1995, with Judi Dench and Sian Phillips. He worked with Phillips again in 1997, directing her as Marlene Dietrich in Marlene, which transferred to Broadway two years later and gained two Tony Award nominations.

Other London directorial credits include Antony and Cleopatra and Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer. His career moved across the Atlantic to New York, where, in 2001, he directed McKellen and Helen Mirren in Strindberg’s Dance of Death. He went on to direct this in London and Sydney in 2003. Also in 2001, he directed an off-Broadway production of Servicemen by Evan Smith. He followed this with a Broadway revival of The Elephant Man.

In 2002, he returned to Sondheim to direct Company at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater in Washington DC as part of its Sondheim Celebration, with a cast including John Barrowman and Lynn Redgrave.

Mathias gave into the lure of panto, and for Christmas 2004 he directed Aladdin at the Old Vic in London, with McKellen as Widow Twankey. Due to its huge success, Mathias reunited with McKellen for a second run the following Christmas.

Mathias has been based in South Africa since 1997 after visiting the country with the National Theatre in 1994 for a series of workshops. He has continued to direct occasional plays in London, the US and elsewhere.

Despite his focus on theatre direction, Mathias is also known as a film director because of his first - and currently only - feature film, Bent (1997), based on the play that propelled him to success.

In 2009 Mathias directed two very different, high-profile West End smash hits: a dream cast revival of Waiting for Godot starring Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart, and Breakfast at Tiffany's starring Anna Friel.

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