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Thursday, November 19, 2015


Theatre designer Dicky Longhurst died in his sleep on November 16. Former Artistic Director of NAPAC and The Playhouse Company, Murray McGibbon, pays tribute to his long time friend and colleague.

“There’s One More Angel In Heaven, There’s One More Star In The Sky”

Dicky Longhurst, theatre designer extraordinaire, died on the same date he was born, November 16. He passed away in his sleep in Cape Town.

He was born in Wepener in the Orange Free State, and studied for a BA in Fine Arts at UOFS graduating in 1970. He joined PACOFS as a graphic artist in 1972 and became a stage manager in 1973 and then resident designer. In 1976 he joined the Little Theatre at the University of Cape Town and was appointed to CAPAB in 1978 as a resident designer under the mentorship of Peter Cazalet. He subsequently went on to a stellar career designing many opera, ballet and drama productions both within South Africa and abroad.

Dicky made his debut with NAPAC in 1985 designing costumes for The Canterbury Tales, which was presented at the old Alhambra Theatre. He designed the costumes for the NAPAC Dance Company’s premiere season at the Natal Playhouse as it was then called. Other productions included costumes for Ain’t Misbehavin’, Midnight Blues, My Fair Lady, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Il Mmatrimonio Segretto, The Millionairess, Present Laughter,Gulls, Die Joiner, Mother to Mother, Die Proponentjie, As You Like It, Cardenio, Come Back, Little Sheba, A Flea in her Ear, The Importance of Being Earnest, On the Razzle, Tartuffe, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Blue Iris, Kermis op Koekenmoer, Broken Glass and countless others.

He was the recipient of numerous Fleur du Cap, Vita and Naledi Awards.He worked with all five of the former Performing Arts Councils, the Baxter Theatre, The Space Theatre, The Market Theatre, Ballet West (USA) and Artscape.

With the predictable disbandment of the arts councils, he diversified into the field of haute couture and together with colleague Hillette Stapelberg opened a salon in Cape Town in 1988. More recently he has worked in both Johannesburg and Cape Town in theatre and film while promoting his own label.

I was first introduced to Dicky when I was contracted to direct Hamlet for NAPAC in 1989. It was my first major Shakespearean production and, frankly, I was terrified. The production featured Frantz Dobrowsky as Hamlet and Sandra Duncan as Gertrude. What could be more intimidating than that!

Dicky and Scenic Designer, New York-based Edward Haynes, gave me the confidence I needed to pull a seemingly impossible assignment out of the bag. Dicky’s costumes for Hamlet were manufactured in Cape Town and flown to Durban. I still wear the shirt he had manufactured for the male chorus, and which he insisted I wear on opening night. We became firm friends and would make a point of wining and dining when I went to Cape Town or he came to Durban. My last working experience with him was the spectacular Romeo and Juliet for which he designed the settings and costumes. I will never forget the ooh’s and aah’s that were very audible in the auditorium when the curtain went up.

More recently, through Facebook, we became correspondents. In his last email to me, he wrote:  “Would be marvellous to do a show with you again!” Sadly this was not to be.

Dicky epitomised, grace, elegance, good taste and STYLE! He was an innovative designer, whose work embodied an energy and artistry not often encountered. His work, while often whimsical, was solidly based upon research and intelligent understanding of the playwright’s intention. He loved his work and was superbly talented in designing for the performer who was to play the role and wear his costume. He designs were real works of art and renderings may be found in private collections all over the world. He was truly a South African fashion and theatre design legend.

Outside of the theatre, Dicky was a great conversationalist, a bon vivant, and a fine cook. His haddock kedgeree is very “moreish” and has become a firm McGibbon family favourite. He was a delightful colleague to work with and party with. Many a good bottle or two of red “grape juice” were consumed at the innumerable meals we shared over the years. He was dedicated to his precious Husky dogs and treated them like humans.

Dicky Longhurst was the consummate professional. South African Theatre will indeed be the poorer for his sudden and untimely demise.

He leaves a son of whom he was immensely proud.

Murray McGibbon is the former Artistic Director of NAPAC and The Playhouse Company. He is currently Professor of Theatre in the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance at Indiana University in the USA.