This month we were devastated to lose a dear friend and long-time supporter of South Hill Park, Simon McCartan, who very sadly passed away on 25 June. Simon acted, directed and produced here over many years and was part of countless wonderful memories for so many.
Simon grew up in Bracknell, attending Wildridings Primary School, where he played Fagin in Oliver. He went on to Garth Hill School, where he played trombone in the school band – a skill that would come in handy for a later stage performance – before studying History and English at Brunel University, completing a thesis on Charles Dickens.
I first met Simon when we were both involved in theatre with the Maidenhead Players in the late 1990s, and what immediately struck me was how fun he was to be around. He just loved being around people, debating anything and everything. He was a true gentleman, kind and respectful, and he took immense pride in following in the theatrical footsteps of his dad (or ‘Mac’ as he’d refer to him), of whom he spoke with adoration.
I have many fantastic memories of Simon’s theatrical exploits at South Hill Park, and I’ve picked just a few highlights here. The first is Blue Remembered Hills, which we performed in the Amphitheatre in the mummer of 2005. Simon played a 7 year-old bully called Willie and gave a typically energetic performance that exuded vulnerability and menace in equal measure. One of the great things about Simon was his ability to find vulnerability in every character he played, and as a result you always cared about them.
Six years later, I was lucky enough to direct Simon in Brassed Off, in which he played Phil Ormondroyd, a colliery worker (and colliery brass band member) facing the loss of his family and his livelihood. I don’t believe I’m being biased when I say he gave an astonishing performance, heart-felt, sincere, often very funny and – yes – vulnerable. Typical of Simon was his commitment to the role, even attempting to reacquaint himself with the trombone so he could actually play along with the band on stage. It wasn’t long before we realised it was probably better he didn’t!
His other appearances on the Wilde stage were numerous and varied, and spanned twenty years, from Nicholas Nickleby in 1988 with the Wilde Theatre Company to more recent roles with EBOS, including Into the Woods, My Fair Lady and Mack n’ Mabel, and most recently South Hill Park’s Blackadder.
But Simon’s involvement at South Hill Park didn’t stop at acting. In 2005 he produced and directed Audience and The Real Inspector Hound in the Studio Theatre through his own company, Light & Shade, while in 2012, he directed a hugely successful sell-out production of Rope for the Studio Theatre Company, creating an amazing production of an extremely technically challenging show in a small space with no budget. And long before that, he directed a very memorable version of the ghost scene from Hamlet as part of an outdoor celebration of Shakespeare.
Simon loved South Hill Park, had many happy times here and gave us some wonderful moments. A loving son and brother, and friend to so many, he will be dearly missed.
Written by Adrian McDougall, friend and colleague.