An actor and a gentleman, with a gift for comedy and living well

Obituary: Stephen Swift was ‘an outstanding example of how to live’

 

Stephen Swift

Born: December 22nd, 1973

Died: June 5th, 2018

For an actor, especially an ensemble actor, the quality of the person often feeds into their performance and the work they create. By this measure, aside from many others, Stephen Swift was an exceptional actor.

On his death this month at age 44, after a long illness, there was an overflow of respect and affection for an actor who had worked with many Irish theatre companies. A comment from one of them, Rough Magic, was emblematic, joining “the whole theatre community in celebrating and mourning the wonderful Stephen Swift, an outstanding example of how to live”.

Swift was a regular on the Gate and Abbey stages, and is remembered as a fine actor, but also intelligent, charming, dignified, witty, good fun, and – cropping up again and again – a gentleman. In a world where ego can dominate, Swift seemed to steer a path straddling decency and talent.

TV and stage

He played Wayne Molloy in Fair City in 2005, as well as roles in The Clinic, Game of Thrones and The Tudors. But stage was where he shone. He worked regularly with Performance Corporation with his brother, writer Tom Swift, and sister-in-law, theatre and festival director Jo Mangan, including in the title role of its first production, Candide in 2002. He worked with them on many innovative and site-specific shows, including The Yokohama Delegation at the Kilkenny Arts Festival and Lizzie Lavelle and the Vanishing of Emlyclough, performed in the sand dunes of Belmullet, Co Mayo.

With Fishamble Theatre Company he was in Still and The Buddhist of Castleknock.

At the Abbey Theatre, where performances ranged from Major Barbara to The Government Inspector and which described him as a “phenomenal actor, beloved friend and respected colleague”, director Graham McLaren made a Noble Call honouring Swift from the national theatre stage.

Over recent years he played many roles at the Gate Theatre, including in Death of a Salesman, Hay Fever, A View from the Bridge, Da, Wuthering Heights, A Christmas Carol, Arcadia, The Deep Blue Sea and Pride and Prejudice. He toured with the Gate, including to Hong Kong and to the Spoleto festival in Charleston, South Carolina.

Swift had a gift for character and comedy, and had great judgment and timing, whether in a sand dune in Mayo, spouting GAA commentary as Gaeilge or playing a likeably dim chap in Jane Austen. He was a superb ensemble player, whose presence alone in a show engendered a collegiate atmosphere.

Family life

Stephen Swift, the middle of Dan and Daphne Swift’s five children, grew up in Rathfarnham, went to The High School, Rathgar and studied Ancient History & Archaeology and Spanish at Trinity College (1993-98). There his taste for theatre developed with DU Players, where he co-wrote Jerusalem!, an “epical biblical comical musical”. Later he studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama, London (2003-2004).

He was both artistic and sporty and was a leading light in the Theatrical Cavaliers cricket club.

Stephen Swift and his wife, lawyer Deirdre O’Kane, were together since August 1996 and he passed on to their six-year-old twin boys Luke and Milo, respectively, his love of stories and of sport. He was a foodie, cooking for his family from scratch even while undergoing chemotherapy, loved pop culture and was an excellent table quizzer, with British comedy a particular interest.

His friend, writer Sonya Kelly, captured the man and the actor: “Imagine a less grumpy Mr Darcy, a more feminist James Bond and a less goofy, but only slightly, Austen Powers and that was Stephen Swift. He was simply the embodiment of elegance in every single thing he did. He was the quintessential gentleman who seemed to hop and skip through the centuries, bringing all of the best parts with him: dignity, patience, consideration, a wicked wit, a fine voice for a song, and quick feet for dancing.”

Stephen Swift is survived by his wife, sons, parents, and siblings Tom, Ronan, Chris and Clare and extended family.