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MICHAEL ATKINSON BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE (article first published : 2007-03-18)

Legendary stage, film, television and radio actor and director Michael Atkinson celebrates his 80th birthday along with 60 glorious years in theatre and show business and 40 years on South African stages. The one-night-only gala event, aptly entitled Atkinson at 80, The Importance of Being Michael, will light up the Baxter Theatre Centre on March 25 at 19h00.

Director Ralph Lawson has assembled a stellar line-up, with musical direction by Aviva Pelham to pay tribute to one of South Africa's most respected artists who has delighted local audiences with acclaimed performances for four decades.

The programme for the gala evening is made up of a wonderful mix of high comedy, drama, music and song, with excerpts from some of the plays which made him the darling of the South African audiences. These include works by NoŽl Coward, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and William Shakespeare.

Sharing the stage with Michael are colleagues and friends Moira Lister, Paddy Canavan, Fiona Coyne, musical director Aviva Pelham, Liz Szymczak, Diane Wilson, John Caviggia, David Crichton, Roger Dwyer, Nicholas Ellenbogen and director Ralph Lawson.

Atkinson was born in England on March 25, 1927, where he was also educated. He attended the full-time acting course at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1944 to 1946 and went on to work with numerous repertory companies throughout the UK, delivering groundbreaking performances on stage, including the West End, as well as radio, television and film.

He worked with the Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespeare Company playing various small roles and later he toured with Peter Brook's production of Measure for Measure, went to Canada with the London Theatre Company and became leading actor at the Swansea Repertory Company.

During his illustrious career he played the lead in over 16 of the Bard's greatest works, performed on the West End and worked for television with the BBC, ABC and Thames TV and appeared in numerous films.

In 1966 he was invited to perform the title role in Macbeth at Maynardville. This was his first visit to South Africa. He went back to England, only to return in 1974 to play Sir Harcourt Courtly in London Assurance and then took up permanent residence. With six one-man shows under his belt, he has received 10 Best Actor awards and many more Best Actor nominations in South Africa.

This one-night-only celebration of masterly theatricality should not be missed by theatre lovers who have been enchanted by the veteran actor's contribution to theatre in this country. Over the years Michael Atkinson has been applauded by the media and the public for his memorable performances in a smorgasbord of exciting theatre productions. He was a familiar figure in Durban during the days of the Natal Performing Arts Council (NAPAC, now The Playhouse Company). Having retired in 2002, he went on to play the role of Major Jolley in the television series Known Gods for MNet in 2005.

Tickets R100 for Atkinson at 80, The Importance of Being Michael at the Baxter Theatre and part of the proceeds will be donated to the Siyasanga Cape Town Theatre Company, which was established especially for young actors. Book at Computicket or call Jean Silverman on 021 465 3022.




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