Shosh Copley obituary

Alison Sterling
·3-min read

My friend Shosh Copley, who has died aged 86, was part of the team creating a revolution in theatre in the 1960s with Richard Pilbrow’s company Theatre Projects, as the professions of lighting, sound and theatre design consulting were founded in the UK. Among the shows she worked on as a stage manager were Blitz! (1962), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1963), Fiddler on the Roof (1967) and Cabaret (1968), all produced by Theatre Projects with Hal Prince. Her friendship with Pilbrow continued for 60 years and she was involved in editing his groundbreaking book Stage Lighting Design (first published in 1970 as Stage Lighting).

Shosh was the only child of David Tabor, a Soho wine merchant, and his wife, Min (nee Lorraine). Her parents named her Margaret, but she was universally known as Shosh – her infant mangling of Shoshana, the name she wished she had been given. Her education at King Alfred school in Golders Green was interrupted by the second world war and evacuation to Royston, Hertfordshire.

She was a keen theatre-goer as a teenager, saving up for matinee tickets, so after school she rejected the idea of Oxford University and went to train as a stage manager at Central School of Speech and Drama in 1953, when it was still based at the Albert Hall. Her work took in the Arts theatre, the Edinburgh festival, the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round in Scarborough (where a young Alan Ayckbourn was her assistant stage manager), and the avant-garde, sensual and experiential performances of Liquid Theatre, which had arrived in London from LA, via New York and Paris.

Shosh moved swiftly from theatre into floor managing for live television, including a stint on That Was The Week That Was. Then she was invited by Pilbrow, who had been a fellow Central student, to join his new company, Theatre Projects.

After working on his book, she turned writer herself and in due course published three successful novels as Margaret Tabor, The Baker’s Daughter (1979), Unity Penfold (1980, published in the US as Eclipse) and The Understudy (1983). Much to Shosh’s amusement, in 1998 Unity Penfold mutated into an American film called Nightmare Street, starring Sherilyn Fenn, which bore a faint resemblance to her book.

Shosh was married in 1958 to David London, a fellow stage manager, with whom she had two children, Gideon and Emma. After their divorce, her second marriage, in 1965, was to the actor Peter Copley, and she became stepmother to his daughter, Fanny.

In 1982 the Copleys left London for Bristol, where they became well known in the theatre community centred on the Theatre Royal, and Shosh herself became a much sought-after editor of manuscripts for her writer friends. After several years of ill health, she endured the final onset of thyroid cancer with her inspiring mix of dark humour and stoicism.

Peter died in 2008, and Gideon in 2010. Shosh is survived by Emma and Fanny, and four grandchildren.