All of us involved in Kestrel were deeply saddened by the sudden death in July of our friend, supporter and long-standing adviser André Ptaszynski.
André was in love with theatre for as long as he could remember. As a child he used to head up to the West End collecting autographs outside stage doors; his favourite television show as a boy was Sunday Night At The London Palladium. He went to university wanting to become an actor, but soon realised his skills lay in facilitating others’ talents. So it was he helped many household names take their first steps into professional entertainment, Griff Rhys Jones, Rowan Atkinson, Harry Enfield, The League of Gentlement and Victoria Wood among them. And, after winning seven Olivier awards with shows like Return To The Forbidden Planet, Showboat and most recently Matilda, as well as running Andrew Lloyd Webber’s company for a decade, he became renowned as one of the finest theatrical producers in Britain.
But what people who encountered André soon came to appreciate was this was not a man cut from the cliched cloth of the cigar-chomping West End impresario. Rather he was kind, decent, thoughtful, generous. Invariably arriving on his bicycle, his enviable plume of silver hair buoyant in the breeze, for him negotiation was a pleasure, not a contact sport. He was, everyone agreed on his passing, a gentleman of the theatre.
And his passion for the dramatic arts extended beyond merely enjoying shows from his seat in the stalls. He was a believer in the power of drama, in its ability not simply to entertain, but to educate and inspire. Back in 2016 we at Kestrel were hugely blessed when André agreed to join our advisory board. His knowledge, his enthusiasm, his understanding were to prove invaluable. He was such a sane, precise, realistic person to work with; he had a laser-like ability to hone in on the salient point. There was no faff or procrastination with André; waffle was not something in which he ever engaged. Unfailingly to the point, he was able always to find his way round a problem and seek out a solution. Full of optimism, his guiding principle was: let’s find a way to get this done.
Generous with his advice, with his time and with his money (he would always be the first to chip in to help sustain a project) André was at the heart of Kestrel’s expansion of its range and offer. At our fund raising galas, he would dip into the most extensive contacts book in showbiz to bring along many of his friends from the entertainment world. And his was always the hand heading towards his pocket at the evening’s end.
What was so valuable about his contribution was that – despite his immense experience in theatre – he never interfered, never suggested he knew best, never was anything but encouraging of others’ efforts, always unfailingly generous with his praise. But was always there for a word of pertinent advice if asked. And he was there too, watching and enjoying every performance. He loved the evidence he derived from watching Kestrel shows that the theatre he so loved had such power to transform lives.
How he will be missed. Thank you André.