Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Plummer’

Even though the 1932 auditorium had its problems, my first visit to the balcony area will always stay with me. It was the first time I had experienced an open stage and I was fascinated to see that the setting was simply a large pillar almost centre stage with a cyclorama at the back. The programme announced that at this performance there would be an Elizabethan setting of the National Anthem arranged by Raymond Leppard. No sign of musicians on stage, but the Anthem sounded very much in period and played on recorders.

Then the house lights dimmed and when they came up there was Richard, Duke of Gloucester ready to inform us that “Now is the winter of our discontent …”. I could hear loud and clear and the first theatrical magic of Shakespeare at Stratford was beginning to weave its spell.

Looking back, the cast list makes very interesting reading. Before he was cast as Captain Von Trapp, Christopher Plummer gave a quite remarkable performance in the title role, with stellar support from Eric Porter (Buckingham), Colin Blakely (Hastings), Peter McEnery (Clarence), Tony Church (Edward IV), Edith Evans (Queen Margaret ), Elizabeth Sellars (Queen Elizabeth) and Esme Church (Duchess of York).

The splendid mediaeval costumes (plus setting were designed by Jocelyn Herbert , assisted by Sally Jacobs and almost ten years before the latter designed that now iconic set for Peter Brook’s production of THE DREAM. The direction was by William Gaskill from the Royal Court Theatre and music by Marc Wilkinson. All these names were familiar from my weekly reading of THE STAGE, so it was truly wonderful to experience their talents in a live production. One name which was not then familiar to me was that of John Barton who was credited in the programme as Fight Arranger and most effective they were!

One notable moment from William Gaskill was the night before Bosworth. The camps of Richard and Richmond (Brian Murray) were either side of the proscenium arch. As each slept, they were surrounded by hooded and cloaked watch who turned out to be the ghosts of Richard’s victims -quite memorable! Several other names in the cast list are worthy of mention -Ian Richardson (Catesby), Clifford Rose (Brackenbury and the Bishop of Ely) and Russell Hunter (Second Murderer and Blunt) who went on to national fame as Lonely in the TV series CALLAN. Before that, however, he joined the Bristol Old Vic for their Shakespeare Quater centenary season and gave some advice in a programme about the true enjoyment of any production of Shakespeare’s plays. I shall share that with you all in the next blog but in 1961 I had discovered the RSC and was determined to return to Stratford as soon as possible!

by Tony Boyd-Williams

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Little did I think that when I came to the RST for the first time in June 1961 to see RICHARD III with  Christopher Plummer in the title role, I would be sitting in a new auditorium with my wife fifty years’ later on the occasion of the official opening of a new and transformed theatre, and that the ceremony would be performed by Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by His Royal Highness, Prince Phillip.

What a happy and glorious occasion indeed! The entire event was splendidly organized -thanks to all concerned and (without being in any way flippant ) it was fascinating in retrospect to think that as in the film SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, it is suggested that Queen Elizabeth I MIGHT have been present at the first performance of ROMEO AND JULIET, so our own Queen DID see Sam Troughton and Mariah Gale in the “Balcony Scene “.

They both performed splendidly and the whole essence of ensemble stood out as they were loudly cheered by their colleagues.

The special plaque unveiled by Her Majesty will be positioned at the base of the Theatre Tower as a reminder of this special day. As the Royal car departed along Waterside to loud cheering, it  was clear that our splendid new building is Royal indeed.

Tony Boyd-Williams

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As we celebrate this special 50th anniversary year, it is significant that the opening production at the now RST on 4th April 1961 was MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING directed by Michael Langham who has just died at the age of 91.

Michael had been a director the previous year when Peter Hall decided that his first season as Artistic Director would include a number of the Comedies and his play was to be THE MERCHANT OF VENICE. Dorothy Tutin played Portia and the young Peter O’Toole played Shylock (prior to becoming better known as Lawrence of Arabia).

It was another comedy which Michael Langham was invited to direct the following season – MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING -an important play in the history of theatre at Stratford as it was the first to open the 1879 theatre. Then Beatrice and Benedick were played by Helen Faucit and Barry Sullivan. Fifty years ago, the roles were taken by Geraldine McEwan and a Canadian actor making his debut at Stratford – Christopher Plummer.

Plummer went on to play Richard III that season and subsequently followed O’Toole onto the wide screen, becoming known worldwide for his performance as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. His first big break had been in his native Canada in 1956 when Michael Langham (at the invitation of Tyrone Guthrie) was Artistic Director for the Stratford Ontario Festival.

During his opening season, Langham demonstrated his approach to Shakespeare’s text by treating it as “living thought” and he cast the young Christopher Plummer in Henry V. Years later, Plummer said he owed his career to this visiting Englishman who was at the helm in Ontario from 1956 to 1967. What is further significant is that not only was Michael Langham invited by Peter Hall to direct during the early work of the RSC, but that during his time in Canada he introduced a thrust stage at Stratford Ontario.

As we now celebrate our new thrust stage at Stratford -upon -Avon, surely Michael Langham’s talents will also be remembered as we recall our Ghosts in the Wall and proudly include those actors /directors/benefactors of the past who have made possible our present and future in this home town of Shakespeare .

 Tony Boyd-Williams

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