Sir Ronald Harwood and Pascal Theatre Company
Remembering our patron and friend, Sir Ronald Harwood
It was an honour for us that Ronnie Harwood agreed to support us with his name and reputation. We came from the same roots in Lithuania and we both were fascinated by secret histories. That he was a patron of our Company was something we appreciated and valued.
Ronald Harwood graciously served as illustrious patron and supporter to Pascal Theatre Company from 2000 until he passed away in September 2020.
Harwood was born Ronald Horwitz in 1934 in Cape Town, South Africa, the youngest son of Isaac Horwitz, a Lithuanian refugee, and his wife, Isobel, by all accounts a very cultured and powerful character. His father, who featured in many of Ronald’s plays and novels, worked as a travelling salesman before suffering a nervous breakdown and later becoming a semi-invalid.
Ronald moved to Britain in the early 1950s to train as an actor at RADA (which was where he was advised to change his name from Horwitz) and after graduating moved to work at the theatre company of the illustrious and renowned stage actor Sir Donald Wolfit.
Often drawing on his autobiographical experiences, Ronald Harwood went on to write 21 stage plays, 10 books and at least 16 credited screenplays, often as an adapter of existing material. Ronald was an Oscar-winning screenwriter (for The Pianist in 2002, based on a Holocaust memoir by the Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman). However he is perhaps best remembered for his brilliant play, and later screenplay, The Dresser. This work is based on Ronald’s time serving as dresser to Donald Wolfit in the 1950s. When it premiered at Manchester’s Royal Exchange in 1980, it served to cement both that theatre’s position as the ‘National Theatre of the North’ and also to secure Ronald’s place as a leading playwright of the age.
Ronald also campaigned on behalf of persecuted writers around the world; he served as president of the English PEN Club from 1989 to 1993 and of PEN International from 1993 to 1997. At his first PEN congress as international president, Harwood welcomed Salman Rushdie to the stage for a rare public appearance. The following year, he brought together Czech president Václav Havel, Arthur Miller and Tom Stoppard for a unique and unforgettable panel discussion at the PEN International congress in Prague.
Speaking about his own theatrical work Harwood told an interviewer for the Jewish Chronicle in 2017, “I let the audience make up its mind. I don’t lecture. My theory regarding theatre is that it should be entertaining and if it has any strong moral purpose, it should be concealed. No preaching!”
Harwood was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1974, made a Knight (Chevalier) of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1996, appointed a CBE in 1999 and knighted in 2010.
Sir Ronald Harwood (Horwitz), playwright and screenwriter, born 9 November 1934; died 8 September 2020