Terry Hands, a British director who led the Royal Shakespeare Company in England and in the 1980s took several productions to Broadway, including a well-regarded “Much Ado About Nothing” and the notorious musical flop “Carrie,” died Tuesday. He was 79.
Theatr Clwyd in Wales, where he was artistic director for 18 years, retiring after directing a final “Hamlet” in 2015, posted news of his death. The location and cause were not given.
Hands was with the Royal Shakespeare Company for almost a quarter-century, joining it in 1966 to run Theatregoround, an outreach program. In 1978 he became joint artistic director with Trevor Nunn, and from 1986 until his departure in 1990 he was the company’s chief executive.
One highlight of his tenure there was his work with actor Alan Howard, whom he directed in an ambitious staging of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Part 1,” “Henry IV, Part 2” and “Henry V” at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1975, with Howard starting out as Prince Hal in the first play in the cycle and growing into the title character in “Henry V.”
Another noteworthy pairing came in the 1980s when Hands directed Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” and Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Derek Jacobi and Sinead Cusack starred in both, as Cyrano and Roxane in the first and as Benedick and Beatrice in the second. Hands moved both productions to Broadway in 1984, running them in repertory.
As for “Much Ado,” Rich called it “an iridescent reverie, as delicate as the wind chimes that shimmer in Nigel Hess’ exceptionally beautiful score.”
“Cyrano” earned three Tony Award nominations and “Much Ado” seven, with Jacobi’s Benedick winning him the best-actor prize. Hands was nominated for best director for that production, and his lighting design for each production — he often did his own — was
“Doing this in America is obviously a gamble,” he told The Times in 1984 when the two plays were about to open. “Pleasing people in New York is not easy, and Broadway is a sudden-death street.”
He received confirmation of that in the most brutal of ways in 1988, when his production of “Carrie,” a musical based on Stephen King’s horror novel about a high school girl with telekinetic power, traveled to Broadway.
With music by Michael Gore, lyrics by Dean Pitchford and a book by Lawrence D. Cohen, the show had a rocky start at Stratford-upon-Avon, but Hands, who directed, took it to New York anyway. Critics were unkind, to say the least. Rich, singling out a scene involving the slaughter of a pig, invoked another famous Broadway flop.
“Only the absence of antlers separates the pig murders of ‘Carrie’ from the ‘Moose Murders’ of Broadway lore,” he wrote in his review.
“Carrie” closed three days after it opened and has been something of a theatrical reference point — and not in a good way — ever since. Hands, though, who during his Royal Shakespeare tenure had pushed to expand that company beyond its comfort zone, had known that failure was a possibility and had embraced the challenge.
“You can’t deny that any show that begins with menstruation in the high school shower and ends with a double murder is obviously taking a risk,” he told The Times a few months earlier. “But that’s the attraction, too.”
Terence David Hands was born Jan. 9, 1941, in Aldershot, England, southwest of London, to Joseph and Luise (Kohler) Hands. He attended the University of Birmingham and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, graduating in 1964 and becoming a founder of the Everyman Theater in Liverpool.
His time at the Royal Shakespeare Company was punctuated by battles over public financing that ultimately wore him down.
After leaving the Royal Shakespeare he worked as a freelance director until 1997, when he responded to a call from Theatr Clwyd, in northeastern Wales, which was on the verge of closing. He became its artistic director, bringing some stability to the finances and building a supportive audience.