Simpson, Alan Patrick (1920–80), theatre director, was born in Baggot Street, Dublin, son of Walter Simpson, Church of Ireland minister. Sent to Belfast to broaden his outlook, he was educated at Campbell College and spent a brief period in Germany before returning to Dublin in the late 1930s. Originally intending to become a bank clerk, he attended a business college before entering TCD. He was involved with the Dublin University Players in stage lighting and stage management, graduating with a BA (1941) and as an engineer (1942). A member of the university's Regiment of Pearse, he was called up to the army in 1941. He served eighteen months in the Curragh before his assignment to Athlone, where he acted for and stage-managed the Athlone Little Theatre Group. Subsequently attached to the 4th Brigade in Mullingar, he organised an army theatre group. There he caught the attention of Shelah Richards (qv), who recommended him for the position of stage manager at the Gate theatre, his first postwar engagement. He met the English actress Carolyn Swift (qv) in Dublin and they married in 1947. They left the Gate to form the Mercury Theatre Company in Limerick, staging their first production in May 1947. The new theatre did not last, and Swift's disapproving parents took her back to London while she was still recovering from an operation. He followed her and they spent three years in London, with Simpson working as an architect's draughtsman and helping with the Unity theatre in Goldington St., before they returned to Dublin in 1950. He was commissioned first lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers that year and used his spare time to set up the Pike theatre with Swift in a mews at 18a Herbert Lane, purchased in September 1952. Able to hold fifty-five patrons, this théâtre à poche presented popular late-night revues as well as plays by Claudel, Ionescu, and Sartre from 1953. It staged the first production of ‘The quare fellow’ by Brendan Behan (qv) on 19 November 1954 in a four-week run. The librarian of the French cultural centre, to which the Pike's premises were attached, introduced him to the work of Samuel Beckett (qv). With Con Leventhal (qv) as Beckett's intermediary, Simpson staged the first Irish production of ‘Waiting for Godot’ at the Pike on 28 October 1955. Giving the play an Irish background, he gave Vladimir and Estragon broad Dublin accents. Beckett preferred the neutral setting of the first French production, but Irish audiences responded to the play and it transferred to the Gate theatre before embarking on an Irish tour that lasted until June 1956.
Controversy engulfed the Pike with its staging of Tennessee Williams's ‘The rose tattoo’ for the May 1957 Dublin Drama Festival. An audience member claimed he saw contraceptives produced on stage, and Simpson was arrested on 21 May 1957, charged with producing an indecent and profane performance for gain. After proceedings that reached the supreme court, all charges against him were dismissed on 9 June 1958, a verdict that left him with large debts to his lawyers. The Pike theatre suffered and closed in 1960, the same year he directed ‘Posterity be damned’ (1960) by Dominic Behan (qv) at the Gaiety. His difficult marriage with Swift broke down in 1961 and he left Dublin for London to direct James McKenna's ‘The scatterin’ (1960) at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. The marriage was dissolved in 1962 and he worked thereafter in Stratford and at the Oxford Playhouse and Edinburgh's Traverse Playhouse. Appointed artistic adviser to the Abbey theatre on a ten-month contract from December 1968, he directed Brendan Behan's unfinished last play, ‘Richard's cork leg’, at the Peacock in March 1972, having reworked it from manuscript material. Increasingly involved in musicals, he staged in the 1970s ‘Jesus Christ superstar’ (1973) and ‘Joseph and the amazing technicolor dreamcoat’ at the Gaiety theatre, Dublin. He also conducted academic research and lectured in 1978 at New York State University, from where he directed ‘Androcles and the lion’ by George Bernard Shaw (qv) in an off-Broadway production. His last project was research into the life of Sean O'Casey (qv). He died on 15 May 1980 at his Clonliffe Road home, Dublin, after directing the first night of the musical ‘McCormack’, based on the tenor's life, at the Dún Laoghaire Pavilion. He married (1963) the Abbey theatre actress Eileen Colgan (qv) in London, and left seven children.