1939 – January 9 2014
Leading stage engineer and international theatre consultant dies age 74
Many across the theatrical world will mourn the passing of Richard Brett on January 9, peacefully at home at age 74, after a brave struggle with cancer. Richard was chairman and senior partner of the international theatre consultants, Theatreplan LLP. A trailblazing theatre consultant, an entrepreneur, engineer, and devoted husband and father, Richard will be dearly missed by all who knew him.
Richard was an innovator and a brilliant engineer. He created the role in Great Britain of the modern professional theatre consultant. His influence on theatre architecture and engineering has been profound and will continue for many generations. Richard Pilbrow (Founder of Theatre Projects) has said: “Richard was one of the greatest theatre engineers of our time, whose unique contribution was perhaps unequaled since the work of engineer/architect Edwin O. Sachs, author of the epic volumes “Modern Opera Houses and Theatres” written over one hundred years ago.”
Richard graduated in electrical engineering from University College London, and joined the British Broadcasting Corporation as a Graduate Apprentice. He became a Senior Planning and Installations Engineer.
In 1965 lighting designer Richard Pilbrow was asked by Sir Laurence Olivier to become the theatre consultant to the new National Theatre. Pilbrow asked Richard Brett to join him in the newly created Theatre Projects Consultants.
As first managing director, Richard Brett built a team of theatre technicians, architects and engineers. Their early consulting projects included the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare’s Barbican Theatre, and the master plan for the Royal Opera House Covent Garden redevelopment.
The National presented unique challenges. It was to be the first British theatre to run multiple productions, with changeovers in repertory, yet with standards to match the highest in the West End. The unusual Olivier stage demanded new solutions: the now famous drum revolve, power flying of unprecedented sophistication, new flexible stage and scenic handling in the Lyttelton, new approaches to lighting and sound in repertory. Richard’s other innovations included the first use of air castors in the theatre to move major architectural elements in Derngate, Northampton.
After twenty years at Theatre Projects, in 1985 Richard went on to start the theatre consulting firm, Theatreplan LLP., of which he was senior partner. Theatreplan has been responsible for some of the most sophisticated theatre installations in the world including the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Gran Teatro del Liceo, Barcelona, and the new Opera House in Copenhagen.
Richard’s work took him from Norway to Mexico, Hong Kong, Sydney and beyond. He was in the forefront of a new thinking; always willing to take a different approach and think outside the box, but he was careful to always ensure that new ideas were tried and tested before implementation.
Richard was a fellow and past chairman of the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT) and a past chairman of the Society of Theatre Consultants. He joined the Institution of Electrical Engineering (IEE) as a student member in the late 1950s, was made a fellow of the IEE in 1986 and was recognized for 50 years of continuous membership in 2009.
Perhaps Richard’s most lasting contribution will be the creation of the quadrennial conferences: “Theatre Engineering and Architecture” presented in London, and in New York, attended by architects, engineers, and theatre professionals from around the world. Richard created these events because of his frustration at seeing so many poorly designed, or wrongly equipped performance spaces. He published the proceedings with a series of illustrated volumes that are encyclopedic source books on advanced theatre technology and architecture. A true parallel to his forebear, Edwin O. Sachs. Also in recent years, and following his consultancy on the new Copenhagen Opera House, his book on the subject with John Offord was published by Entertainment Technology Press.
Richard’s professional legacy of innovation will live on in the theatres he designed and the standards he set, but for those who knew him, his lasting legacy will be one of kindness, intelligence, and friendship.
Richard is survived by his loving wife Jenny, and two children, Chris and Jacquie from his first marriage, and his younger brother Michael. Richard’s funeral will be a small private family occasion, and a celebration of Richard’s enormously fruitful life will be held later in the Spring.