Patti Love obituary

<span>Photograph: Alastair Muir/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Alastair Muir/Shutterstock

Patti Love, who has died aged 75, was an actor of supreme talent and individuality who graced seasons at the Glasgow Citizens, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.

She appeared regularly on television from 1971, in such popular series as Boon and Casualty and a fine 1994 adaptation of Middlemarch, in which she played Mrs Plymdale.

On film she was in David Essex’s 1950s nostalgia trip That’ll Be the Day (1973), a prequel to the same pop star’s Stardust (1974). And she was the only actor from the stage premiere of Nell Dunn’s Turkish bath for ladies conversation piece, Steaming (1981), at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, to appear in Joseph Losey’s 1985 film version of it (his last film), alongside Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles and Diana Dors.

Her key role, however, was that of the radical psychiatrist RD Laing’s schizophrenic patient Mary Barnes in David Edgar’s 1978 play of the same name, based on Barnes’s book written with her mentor Joseph Berke. Berke was played by Simon Callow, who said this was “among the most draining experiences of my life”, though he was in awe of Patti’s “total and uncommon commitment to her character, rare on any stage”. The play opened at the Birmingham Rep, transferring with acclaim to the Royal Court in 1979.

The daughter of Margaret (nee Cunningham) and Henry Love, Patti was raised in Glasgow. Her father had been interned in a Japanese PoW camp, suffered from poor health, and died before she found her way to the newest, most radical drama school at the end of the 1960s, the Drama Centre in north London. From there, she joined the Glasgow Citizens, playing Olivia on a beach in Twelfth Night, Shaw’s Saint Joan accompanied by (recorded) Pink Floyd and the heartbreaking mute daughter of Brecht’s Mother Courage.

She was part of a splinter group from the Citizens led by the director Keith Hack, which imploded at the Place in London. But almost immediately she appeared at the National Theatre, in 1974 (still at the Old Vic), in the first uncensored production of Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, with Beryl Reid, Michael Kitchen and Peter Firth, and in Goldoni’s Il Campiello, which opened the NT Olivier on the South Bank in the presence of the Queen in 1976.

She clocked up further RSC credits in another Wedekind play, The Marquis of Keith, with Ian McKellen, later touring, in 1980, as Lady Mortimer and Doll Tearsheet in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2.

Patti Love, left, as Bibi and Diana Hardcastle as Louise in Me and Mamie O’Rourke at the Palace theatre, Watford, in 1992.
Patti Love, left, as Bibi and Diana Hardcastle as Louise in Me and Mamie O’Rourke at the Palace theatre, Watford, in 1992. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Her most extraordinary performance after Mary Barnes was as a 14th-century anchoress in Arnold Wesker’s Caritas (1981), also at the National, in which she spent half the play invisibly incarcerated in her cell, swinging round for the second half to continue her rant about the remedy for lust being mortification of the flesh while imaginatively aligned with Wat Tyler’s Peasants’ Revolt.

Her other major Royal Court performances were in the transfer (to Wyndham’s) of Caryl Churchill’s 1987 big bang satire Serious Money, and in Timberlake Wertenbaker’s tremendous Three Birds Alighting on a Field (1991), another satire, this time on relations between the art world and sponsorship, famous for its opening line – “Art is money-sexy-social-climbing fantastic” – and Harriet Walter’s fulsome performance in the lead role of a sybaritic “art lover”.

Patti’s latter stage performances included Peter Hall’s production of Lysistrata at the Old Vic in 1993, a 1994 tour of Vanbrugh’s The Provok’d Wife, as Lady Fancyfull, and as the social-climbing gambling addict Mrs Sago in Susanna Centlivre’s The Basset Table (1705) at the Bristol Old Vic in 1998.

Patti Love (Penny) and Kulvinder Ghir (Sya) in I Miss My War at the Almeida theatre, London, in 1989
Patti Love (Penny) and Kulvinder Ghir (Sya) in I Miss My War at the Almeida theatre, London, in 1989. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Later films included Jack Gold’s TV movie Escape from Sobibor (1987), Peter Medak’s The Krays (1990) and Stephen Frears’s Mrs Henderson Presents (2005).

Virtually nothing is known of Patti’s personal life. An only child, she was a committed loner, save for a long relationship with Bob Hoskins, whom she first met when both appeared in an RSC production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh at the Aldwych theatre in 1976. She declared no next of kin when, suffering from dementia towards the end of her life, she entered a retirement home for actors, so her friend and fellow actor Harriet Walter assumed the “next of kin” role.
Michael Coveney

David Edgar writes: I first met Patti in 1972 in a tiny London lunchtime theatre. She was giving an electrifying performance in a short play of mine about baby-snatching, subsequently a BBC Play for Today. During filming she loaned me a heavily annotated autobiography of a schizophrenic woman who had journeyed through madness in a 1960s therapeutic community; asking me – well, telling me – to adapt it for her to perform.

“Perform” is a completely inadequate verb to describe what Patti did with the part of Mary Barnes, at the Birmingham Rep and then the Royal Court. Collaborating with the real Mary, she became a woman who regressed to a foetal state, grew up again, battered her psychotherapist (the longsuffering Joe Berke, played by the longsuffering Simon Callow), covered herself in her own excrement and resurrected herself by painting vast, biblical wall-paintings with her fingers. Happily preserved in a 1995 radio version, it remains one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen, and it was a privilege that it was in a play of mine.

Patti Love, actor, born 18 August 1947; died 17 February 2023