Theater world pays tribute after death of Marcello Magni | Theater

Tributes have been paid to the actor Marcello Magni whose death at the age of 63 was announced on Sunday by Simon McBurney and Complicité, the theater company they co-founded almost 40 years ago.

McBurney said he was “utterly bereft” and called Magni “my brother, my comrade, partner, hilarious dancer, unparalleled improviser [and] partner-in-play”. Other theater-makers acknowledged Magni’s huge influence. Told By an Idiot’s artistic director, Paul Huntertweeted: “He simply blew me away and changed the way I thought about performing.”

Magni captivated audiences with his expressive performances, displaying a quicksilver comedic mischief often combined with an elegant sense of pathos. A gifted clown, he had a vast experience in physical theater and also worked as a director, teacher and movement director. His nimble vocal work of him can be heard on the popular children’s TV series Pingu.

Originally from Bergamo, in northern Italy, Magni trained at Jacques Lecoq’s school in Paris in the early 1980s and his other theatrical teachers included Philippe Gaulier, Pierre Byland and Monika Pagneux. He was one of the four founding members, in 1983, of Théâtre de Complicité as the company was first known. I have performed in their show More Bigger Snacks Nowwhich was one of the first ever winners of the Perrier comedy award, at the Edinburgh fringe in 1985.

Marcello Magni (Fool) and Kathryn Hunter (Lear) in King Lear at Leicester Haymarket in 1997.
Marcello Magni (Fool) and Kathryn Hunter (Lear) in King Lear at Leicester Haymarket in 1997. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Performing alongside Magni in several Complicité shows (including Foe, To the Wedding, Out of a House Walked a Man… and The Winter’s Tale) was Kathryn Hunter. “I found him brilliant and hilarious and we fell in love,” said Hunter. The couple later married.

In February, he and Hunter won acclaim for their performances in a new version of Ionesco’s tragic farce The Chairs, translated and directed by Omar Elerian at the Almeida in London. In 1997, Magni was the Fool to Hunter’s King Lear in a production of Shakespeare’s tragedy at the Leicester Haymarket. This year they returned to the same play, with Hunter once more playing the king, at Shakespeare’s Globe; Magni had been due to play Kent but with drawn due to ill health and was credited instead as a creative collaborator. “We’re deeply saddened to hear of the death of the brilliant Marcello Magni,” announced the Globe on Sunday. “His light, love and tireless contribution from him to theater will outlive us all.”

Magni and Hunter’s careers are twinned. She directed him in The Comedy of Errors at the Globe in 1999 and in Aristophanes’ The Birds at the National Theater in 2002; he directed her (and performed himself as the storyteller) in Tell Them That I am Young and Beautiful at the Arcola, London, in 2011. They co-directed Everyman for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1998.

For Peter Brook’s Bouffes du Nord theater in Paris, Magni appeared with Hunter in Fragments and The Valley of Astonishment, which both visited London. He created a solo show, Arlecchino – about the harlequin figure from the commedia dell’arte – which he performed at Battersea Arts Center in London in 2003 and also took to his native Italy.

On television, Magni appeared in The Tudors, The Virgin Queen and Doctor Who (alongside Matt Smith’s Doctor in the episode The Eleventh Hour) as well as providing voices for the stop-motion claymation series Pingu. The Italian clown Carlo Bonomi had voiced the early series of the show, about an inquisitive penguin. Magni and David Sant then became voiceover artists using an invented language that became known as Penguinese. They shared the role of Pingu and performed more than a dozen other characters on the show.

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