Abd'Elkader Farrah:

Abd'Elkader Farrah, theatre designer, was born on March 28, 1926. He died on December 18, 2005, aged 79.

Innovative theatre designer whose sets for the RSC helped to bring the company to its artistic peak.

Known for "an expressive shaping of stage space" and a painter's gift for forceful design in costumes and properties, Abd'Elkader Farrah brought to the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1970s and 1980s a refreshing and distinctive use of costume and setting.

Born in Algeria, he worked at first happily with all kinds of British directors mainly for the RSC, but from 1974, Terry Hands, who had previously worked mainly with the team of Timothy O'Brien and Tazeena Firth, turned more and more to Farrah.

His designs for French and British stages reached their summit of success in the mid-1970s with Alan Howard heading Hands's productions of Henry V (rated "a reclamation") and Henry IV Part 1 and 2 (which together enjoyed a run of five years) and a French version of Richard III with Robert Hirsch which was seen at the Comedie Francaise and later at the Aldwych in 1973.

Farrah was born at Boghari, Algeria, in 1926, the son of Brahim Farrah and his wife, Fatima-Zohra Missoumi. Initially he worked as a painter, and he designed his first stage production in 1953 -Samson and Dalilah, for the Stadschouwburg, Amsterdam.

He went on to design more than 300 productions, some for the RSC of which he became an associate artist. He ranged from Shakespeare, Chekhov, Eliot and Albee to Genet, Brecht, Pirandello and Kenneth Tynan's Oh! Calcutta.

Before joining the RSC in 1961 Farrah was appointed head of the theatrical design course at the National Theatre School, Strasbourg, from 1955 to 1962; and he performed a similar role from 1968 to 1969 at the National Theatre School of Canada, Montreal.

He became a protege and collaborator of Michel Saint-Denis in France and later in England. Indeed, it was Farrah's first London production -of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard in a version by John Gielgud -that Saint-Denis directed, staged first at Stratford-upon-Avon before transferring to the Aldwych.

Farrah then did the setting and costumes for Stuart Burge's production of Christopher Fry's Curtmantle (Aldwych, 1962). His first production at Stratford-upon-Avon came in 1963, with Clifford Williams collaborating with Peter Brook as joint directors of The Tempest. This is where Farrah first showed his interest in stylised masks.

In 1965 he again collaborated with Saint-Denis as director at the Aldwych of Brecht's Squire Puntila and his Servant Matti, with Roy Dotrice in the title role.

Moving to the Royal Court in 1967, Farrah worked with William Gaskell on a revival of Chekhov's The Three Sisters with George Cole as Prozorov and Glenda Jackson as Masha. The following year he again joined Clifford Williams at Stratford-upon Avon to stage Marlowe's Dr Faustus (stylised masks again) with Eric Porter in the title role.

At the Aldwych in 1970 when Farrah collaborated with Robin Phillips on Albee's Tiny Alice, with Irene Worth in the title role, B. A. Young, in The Financial Times, found Farrah's designs "breathtakingly lovely". They also solved the scenic demands the author demanded.

That same year he worked at Stratford-upon-Avon withHands for the first time. Theirs was to become a notable partnership, with Norman Rodway playing Richard III.

The quality that Hands brought out in Farrah's scenography was what was known as "an architectonic and theatrically expressive" shaping of stage space -it was particularly evident in Genet's The Balcony (Aldwych, 1972), Henry V (Stratford-upon-Avon, 1975) and Coriolanus (1977).

Farrah's work as designer for Henry V and Henry IV (Part One and Two) was not so much a set as a superb stage which served for all productions. It comprised a black platform, bare of adornment, which jutted out towards the audience with all its working trimmings clearly visible.

Farrah's talent for bold design and colour in costumes and props, which had been clear enough in Dr Faustus, marked much of his stage work. His West End sets for Pirandello's Henry IV (played by Rex Harrison) were the result of another collaboration with the director, Clifford Williams (Her Majesty's, 1974), From 1975 to 1977 the RSC was reckoned to reach its peak. Reinforced by the symbolism inherent in Hands's and Farrah's staging was the often contrapuntal nature of Henry V, so long judged to be a simple hymn to English imperial impulses.

When the French died, trapped in Farrah's glorious golden armour, they were visibly imprisoned in a way of life and a set of assumptions that they -unlike the English -had been unable to escape.

With Alan Howard at its centre as Henry, the first of the four Shakespearian kings he was to play for the RSC over the next five years, the production enjoyed a record number of performances and played extensively in Britain, New York and Europe.

It became a magnificent example of director, designer and actor working together.

The revival was judged a reclamation, staging it singly rather than sequentially.

The battle of Agincourt became not the jingoistic vanquishing of the French but the victory of a united group of men over a hierarchic and entrenched society.

In 1977 Farrah's designs for Hands's revival of Coriolanus illustrated clearly the private and public dilemma of its protagonist (Howard) and with the staging of the first unabridged Henry VI trilogy the cycle was notable for Farrah's highly symbolic designs. They conveyed both the intimacy and the breadth of action on the battlefield. In 1980 Richard II and Richard III, directed by Hands and again designed by Farrah, completed the full cycle of Shakespeare's history plays initiated in 1975.

Other Farrah designs which emphasised his taste for boldness and colour were seen in As You Like It (1980) and Poppy (Barbican, 1982).

By 1987, when Farrah designed a permanent surround for Hands's production of Julius Caesar (Stratford-upon-Avon) the quality of acting came into question; and though the setting for the opening production resembled the redbrick courtyard of the kind "being built in one of the new universities of the 1960s", it succeeded only in emphasising the vastness of the Stratford stage.

His wife, Simone Pieret, predeceased him. He is survived by his two children, Safi and Leila.

The Times

January 11, 2006