Val May

Valentine Gilbert Delabere "Val" May, CBE (1 July 1927 – 6 April 2012) was an English theatre director and artistic director. He led the Bristol Old Vic from 1961 to 1975, and the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre from 1975 to 1992.

Val May
Valentine Gilbert Delabere May

1 July 1927
Bath, Somerset
Died6 April 2012(2012-04-06) (aged 84)
OccupationTheatre director

Early life and education

Val May was born in Bath, Somerset. His father, Claude Jocelyn Delabere May, was a doctor, and his mother, whose maiden name was Olive Gilbert, was a descendant of W.S. Gilbert. Through his paternal grandmother, he was third cousin to Richard Body MP. The family moved to Guildford while May was a child. He attended Cranleigh School and Peterhouse, Cambridge before studying at the London Old Vic Theatre School under Michel Saint-Denis. His national service was in the Royal Navy.[1]

Early career

Val May's first professional engagement was in 1950, when he directed Jean Cocteau's The Typewriter at the Watergate Theatre in London.[2] He spent three years at the Dundee Repertory Theatre as assistant to the artistic director and became artistic director of the Ipswich Theatre in 1953.[3] From 1957 to 1961 he was artistic director of the Nottingham Playhouse. May directed the London Old Vic's production of Richard II in 1959.[4] Also in 1959, the Nottingham company's production of Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall's comedy Celebration was transferred to London's Duchess Theatre.[2]

The Bristol Old Vic

May was artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic from 1961 to 1975. Many of his productions transferred to West End theatres, and some to Broadway.[2] An early success was Erwin Piscator's adaptation of War and Peace, translated by Robert David MacDonald, which had its British premiere in Bristol in February 1962 and was performed at the London Old Vic that summer.[5] In 1963 May directed J.B. Priestly's adaptation of Iris Murdoch's novel A Severed Head. It premiered in Bristol before moving to London's Criterion Theatre the same year and then to Broadway in 1966.[2][6] May also directed the world premiere production of Frank Marcus's lesbian-themed comedy The Killing of Sister George at the Bristol Old Vic in 1965. He took the production to the Duke of York's Theatre in London later the same year, and to the Belasco Theatre in New York in October 1966.[1][7][8]

During his tenure, the Bristol Old Vic company doubled in size and undertook a number of foreign tours.[1] In the early 1970s, May supervised architect Peter Moro's redesign of the Theatre Royal, the Bristol Old Vic's home. This involved replacing the entrance and adding a 150-seat studio space. May also had the Theatre Royal's eighteenth-century raked stage replaced by a flat scenic stage.[9]

Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

From 1975 to 1992 May was artistic director of the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in his childhood home of Guildford. The theatre's artistic policy had been relatively mainstream and May continued in the same vein, mounting popular productions that could be sold on to West End theatres. This allowed the Yvonne Arnaud to withstand a chronic funding problem, and in 1985 total withdrawal of Arts Council funding.[10]:158 During the 1980s twenty-seven productions were transferred to West End theatres.[11]

Freelance director and later career

In the 1980s and 1990s May was active as a director in London and elsewhere. Notable productions included Neil Simon's Little Me at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1984 and Royce Ryton's The Royal Baccarat Scandal at the 1988 Chichester Festival.[2] In 1984 he directed Peter O'Toole in Pygmalion at the Shaftesbury Theatre. The production moved to the Plymouth Theatre in New York in 1987. He was especially noted for his success with costume dramas, including touring productions of plays by Oscar Wilde.[3] From 1993 to 1996 May directed the Ludlow Festival, which presented The Taming of the Shrew, Richard III and King Lear during his tenure.[2] His last London production was Jeffrey Archer's The Accused in 2000.[1]

Val May was married twice and had a daughter by each marriage. The eldest is the television director, Juliet May. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1989. He died near Guildford in 2012.[3]


  1. Coveney, Michael (16 April 2012). "Val May obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  2. "Val May". The Telegraph. 10 April 2012. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  3. Steven, Alaisdair (14 April 2012). "Obituary: Val May; theatre director who brought a wealth of experience and stars to Scottish audiences". The Scotsman. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  4. "Mr. Val May's first production for the Old Vic". The Times. London, England. 10 November 1959. p. 15.
  5. "Epic drama of pace and fidelity". The Times. London, England. 15 June 1962. p. 6. In all epic drama much depends on the director, Mr. Val May in this case at the top of his form.
  6. "Iris Murdoch dramatized". The Times. London, England. 28 June 1963. p. 18.
  7. "Inside the Playbill: The Killing of Sister George – Opening night at the Belasco". Playbill Vault. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  8. "Comedy fulfilment of new writer". The Times. London, England. 18 June 1965. p. 15. The writing is poised, ribald, and quick-witted. Val May's production pushes such effects to the limit but never lets the audience lose sight of the play's serious emotions.
  9. Mackintosh, Iain (2003). Architecture, Actor and Audience. London, England: Routledge. p. 88. ISBN 9781134969128.
  10. Turnbull, Olivia (2008). Bringing Down the House: The Crisis in Britain's Regional Theatres. Bristol, UK: Intellect Books. ISBN 9781841502083.
  11. "History". Guildford's Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. Retrieved 3 November 2014.
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