Tributes have been paid to actor Seun Shote, who has died unexpectedly at 47. Shote was nominated for an Offies award for his blistering performance as a Trinidadian police commissioner in Mustapha Matura’s Play Mas at Richmond’s Orange Tree theatre in 2015. He was also acclaimed for his work with the Jamie Lloyd Company, who said: “We are deeply saddened to hear about the passing of our incredibly talented collaborator.”
Lloyd, who directed Shote in major West End productions of Cyrano de Bergerac and The Seagull, said he “made a huge impact on us all” and “shared so much love, joy and positivity with the world. He showed us how to be with people – with kindness, generosity, humour and heart.” The Seagull, starring Emilia Clarke, opened for previews days before theatres were shut in March 2020 due to the pandemic; Shote played Shamrayev, which he rehearsed during the day while giving his final performances in Cyrano, starring James McAvoy, at night.
Shote was born and raised in Stoke Newington, north London, and trained at the Manchester Metropolitan School of Theatre. His other stage work included a UK tour of Chinonyerem Odimba’s Princess & the Hustler in 2019, part of Eclipse Theatre’s Revolution Mix initiative to present black British “hidden histories” on stage. It was set against the backdrop of the 1963 Bristol bus boycott.
Shote had a part as Bob Marley – surreally working behind a supermarket checkout – in a 2015 short play at the Royal Court and, at the same theatre, a role in Routes by Rachel De-Lahay in 2013. He made a name for himself when he took the title role in Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, set in apartheid-era South Africa, staged at the New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 2005 and again at the Stephen Joseph theatre in Scarborough in 2009. The Guardian’s Alfred Hickling hailed his performance as “thoroughly engaging”. He had previously starred in Fugard’s Master Harold and the Boys at Leicester Haymarket. In 2005, he appeared in an opera based on the death of Stephen Lawrence. For the National Theatre, he had small roles in Death and the King’s Horseman and One Man, Two Guvnors.
Charismatic and witty, with a stage presence that could be warm and sincere, Shote also had a disturbing role as Pitchfork, who makes a nightmarish entrance in Philip Ridley’s The Pitchfork Disney, which Jamie Lloyd directed in 2017 in an atmospheric production in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall.
Recently, Shote appeared in Netflix’s Black Mirror and the crime drama Unforgotten. During lockdown he was heard in the BBC Radio 4 drama Oil on Water, an adaptation of Helon Habila’s novel.
Elliot Barnes-Worrell, who directed Shote in a short film, Bloke Fears, said he was “a beautiful sensitive performer [who] reached out to younger artists and supported them”. Shote was the artistic director of Orísun Productions, a theatre company that provides a platform for creatives from the African diaspora. He was also a capoeira instructor and a founder member of the group Capoeira Ceara.
Sarah Barnfield, at Price Gardner Management, said that, as Shote’s agent for 20 years, she had “watched him grow from strength to strength as both a man and a superbly talented actor. Representing him was a privilege, and the loss of his enormous presence will be felt far and wide throughout the entertainment industry for all those that knew and worked with him. His talent, energy and smile were hugely infectious and he will be missed by so many. Our love and thoughts go out to all his family and friends.”