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Posts Tagged ‘Eric Porter’

The summer of 1964 saw me back in Stratford and this time for a whole week! I had just finished my schooldays and my ‘A’ level results were on the horizon (in fact, they were due in a few days). Meantime, I was determined to enjoy an absolute feast of theatre and I was not disappointed. On the day I arrived (Saturday), I had tickets for the matinee of RICHARD II and the evening performance of HENRY IV -PART I. As usual, I made my way down to the theatre as soon as possible and purchased programmes. A quick glance at the cast for each play showed that I would soon be seeing some now familiar faces from previous productions -David Warner, Roy Dotrice, Ian Holm, Janet Suzman, Eric Porter, Jeffery Dench, John Normington and Jeffery Dench. The programmes were more detailed than two years previously and they provided much food for thought over lunch – no pun intended!

 I still have the programmes for this historic season and readers may be interested in the following quote from an article about the then RSC: “The Royal Shakespeare Company believe that the Elizabethan theatre and especially Shakespeare offers a dramatic richness unequalled in any other epoch or language …the aim of the Royal Shakespeare Company is to express this richness so that it is immediate to modern audiences, an experience that reverberates with the thoughts and feelings of today “.

 Some retrospective thoughts about the productions I enjoyed that week will follow in future blogs but I cannot resist referring to the weather on that first day of my week in Stratford. It may have been early August but as I made my way from the theatre in search of lunch, the heavens opened and there followed a downpour worthy of the winter months. Ah, but didn’t someone write something about “..the rain it raineth every day “?!! Actually, it WAS typical of some of the days we have experienced during the past week because when we came out of the matinee, the sun was shining brightly and it was becoming quite hot.

I should also at this stage like to relate how I first discovered the Stratford -upon-Avon Poetry Festival. Between performances, I came across this magnificent Tudor Building not far from the theatre and Holy Trinity Church. Correct, my first encounter with Hall’s Croft. The following evening there would be a programme of poems and readings under the title of THE MAN TRAP. It was arranged by Patrick Garland and would be performed by Fenella Fielding and Max Adrian. Now I had nothing booked for the following evening but enquiries within revealed that the tickets had long been sold but ..now this WAS interesting ..if I would care to purchase a ticket and sit in the lounge, the performance would be heard there even if the actors were not seen and coffee would be served in the interval. As you may guess, I purchased a ticket and had a rather special surprise the following evening.

 What was it ? To be continued …

by Tony Boyd-Williams

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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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(Lithograph by William Verdult)

Whilst we eagerly await the return of the Ensemble and the opening performances of KING LEAR, readers may like to recall the very first production they saw of this play. Mine was way back in 1968 and it was the first time Trevor Nunn directed it for the RSC. Lear was played by Eric Porter who had been a member of the company since it began in 1960  when his roles had included Leontes and Malvolio. Inbetween engagements at Stratford and the Company’s then London home at the Aldwych Theatre, Porter had achieved further fame as a result of his splendid interpretation of Soames in the BBC adaptation of THE FORSYTE SAGA.

Anticipation was high and expectations were fulfilled. It is also fascinating to consider other casting -Michael Williams playing the Fool for the first time, Alan Howard as Edgar, Norman Rodway as Edmund, David Waller as Kent, Sebastian Shaw as Gloucester, Diane Fletcher, Sheila Allen and Susan Fleetwood as the Daughters. Two future theatrical knights were also in the company, Sir Patrick Stewart as Cornwall and (in his first season at Stratford ) Sir Ben Kingsley as Oswald.

I saw the production very early in the run and at a packed matinee. The audience response at the end remains vivid in the memory, as does  that sense of theatrical excitement prior to the entry of  Lear. Now over forty years later, there will surely be similar excitement at The Courtyard on Thursday 18th February. For those of you who may not previously have seen KING LEAR in the theatre, hurry along because you have a powerful theatrical  experience  in store.

by Tony Boyd-Williams

And Your Favourite King ?

The RSC’s latest King Lear, Greg Hicks, steps on stage this week for the first previews of the new production. Seeing a new production at the Courtyard in the early days, when the air of tension among the company is palpable and everything you see is a surprise, is one of the best things about living in Stratford. And yet a year from today, the production will be one entry in a long list of Lears throughout the years.

Which brings us to the question, who is your best Lear? I think I’ve probably seen about 10 productions over the years, some great, some not so memorable – although to be fair, I have a deep-rooted problem with the play that has nothing to do with the King. The minute Edgar appears I find myself wondering if I’m going to be able to stand Poor Tom being a-cold and if the answer is no, I’m heading for the door. Really, what was Shakespeare thinking?

But I digress. Back to the best Lears. My personal favourites were Timothy West for the English Touring Theatre Company (the only one that has made me cry) and Robert Stephens at the Barbican. The Lawrence Olivier film, with John Hurt as the Fool, was also something pretty special. And there are a few I really wish I’d seen – Richard Briers, Ian Holm and Michael Gambon. My Lear-obsessed friend Ron has seen almost 30 versions and the best as far as he is concerned was Lee Beagley for the Kaboodle company in Liverpool in 1992, with Tom Courtney at the Royal Exchange in Manchester getting a very honourable mention.

We’re running a very unscientific poll over the next few weeks for your best Lear, so all nominations welcome!

by Liz Fisher

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