Ed Taylor – A Tribute

 ED TAYLOR (1982-2023): A TRIBUTE

For a director, casting is a difficult task without losing good actors at 40. Last week came the sudden, but not unexpected, death of an established talent and much-loved player.

Ed Taylor’s life and amdram was blighted with a number of problems which I don’t propose to recount in detail here. Health and emotional issues drove him to drink and his friends know well enough from his frequent postings on Facebook what sort of turmoil he was in lately. But he always met these issues (and his friends) with great vigour and garrulousness. They never overwhelmed the guy’s intelligence, even though his spirit took a battering. Both elements of his character were on show whenever he took to the stage. Surprisingly, in the 25 years I knew Ed (he rarely acknowledged his full name, Edmund) he appeared in, at least, 15 plays, usually in supporting roles but once in a triumphant star part.

His elder brother, Matthew, was already involved at the CT during the 90s and Ed suddenly showed up in 1998, as a very young apostle (15!) in Dennis Potter’s “Son of Man”, alongside established talents such as Eric Walton, Greg Sherrington and Kevin Grocock. He immediately fitted into Christ’s gang and, knowing Ed, probably got the beers in at The Last Supper. Within a year, he was back to gruel and the Christmas goose, as Peter Cratchit in my adaptation of “A Christmas Carol”.

He then disappeared to college in Exeter for a while but was back to play the hapless son, Dennis Wicksteed, in Alan Bennett’s “Habeas Corpus” (2001). The pattern was already established, a madly-sociable, hard-drinking teen, who somehow still managed to con his lines, stay relatively disciplined for the run and produce memorable characters on-stage. On the final night of “Habeas Corpus”, he tried to introduce me to absinthe, swigging it from the bottle, sitting on the steps of the CT, waiting for a taxi; absinthe may have made the heart grow fonder but it made the brain go loopy.

He was with us, on and off, for twenty years, popping up in rumbustious roles such as the wronged lover, Leslie Dixon, climbing onto the judge’s bench in “The Cracked Pot” (2011), the method-acted drunken Porter in my production of “MacBeth” (2014) and, in “Hamlet” (2019), even taking over Denmark at the end, clad in fatigues and chewing a cigar as a punchy little Fortinbras. His range was startling, from a wild Portuguese-speaking Israel Hands in “Treasure Island” (2018) to the tentative, primary-school narrator in Flint Street Nativity (2019).

But his biggest and undoubtedly starring role was in Sam Al-Hamdani’s experimental 1984 (2011), a fretful but resolute Winston Smith, being interrogated by Kevin’s sinister O’Brien, in a 20-minute scene conducted in pitch darkness, with the horrors only fleetingly seen when a match was struck. It was a great shame that it was one of very few chances we had to see Ed’s serious side, which did exist, buried under all the waggy-dog piss-artistry.

Other theatres cottoned onto his talents; he played at all three of the Oldham amdram venues, notably, at the Lyceum, with a faultless Irish accent in two plays by Martin McDonagh, “The Cripple Of Inishmaan” and “The Beauty Queen Of Leenane”, playing cheeky village half-wits.

But the role he returned to again and again was Beelzebub in the annual Pace Egg play; once all the fighting was over, Ed slunk on, wearing a Slipknott mask, spitting horribly into his dripping pan and menacing all the screaming tots in the crowd. Even after Kevin, his mentor and almost surrogate dad, had died in 2016, he was the main impulse behind the charity performances in recent years, donning the mask for the last time in 2023.

Ed relished a company as much as a performance, the social boozing as much as the playing which meant that, latterly, directors wouldn’t take a chance on casting him. But we will sorely miss his wild-card talents and his dedication when he committed himself to a part. To be cheated of another 30 or 40 years of the colourful retinue of characters he could have brought to the stage is a hard thing to bear for a casting director. RIP Eddie.

Written by Peter C. Fitton: August 2023