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Posts Tagged ‘Ian Holm’

A feast of Shakespeare’s  HISTORIES during this special holiday week not only enabled me to really appreciate the by now growing strengths of the RSC ensemble, but also the dramatic benefits of the open stage as opposed to waiting for the action to happen once a curtain had risen. The direction of the plays by Peter Hall, John Barton and Clifford Williams (with assistance from Frank Evans) ensured that even before the house lights went down, characters entered and by their very actions and movement prepared us for what was to follow (e.g. in RICHARD II, Bushy, Green and Bagot seemed to conspire in one corner whilst seeming to deliberately disregard John of Gaunt who remained alone at another part of the stage). At the moment the first lines of any of the plays was spoken, the house lights dimmed and we were plunged into a world of politics and warfare, with Shakespeare’s words allowing the story to unfold.

Such dramatic beginnings were most effective and the device continued when the intervals were reached. Certain characters e.g. the gardeners in RICHARD II, the drawers in HENRY 1V -PART I were left on stage as the house lights came up and proceed to move props or items of furniture in readiness for the following scene. This was my first introduction to members of an acting company performing tasks which had hitherto been performed behind  the curtain by unseen stage staff.

Another innovation for me was the use of live musicians in costume  -most effective and exciting especially in the case of drums and trumpets accompanying marching armies. Of course, fifty years on we are used at the RSC to experiencing live music, but in the sixties I was reminded of Prospero’s Line -“Tis new to thee”. 

However, one aspect of the RSC I had not yet experienced was new work. This was to be remedied the following year when I saw Ian Holm (Prince Hal and Richard III during that memorable 1964 season ) in a world premiere of a play specially commissioned by Peter Hall. The play? Harold Pinter’s THE HOMECOMING and the next blog will share some special memories of  fantastic evening in a theatre with a production that became not only a landmark for the RSC but for British Theatre.

Tony Boyd-Williams

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Back in 1963, the company altered the format of programmes. Instead of the shilling priced  red coloured play title cover (with Swan logo) which contained the cast list and a brief director’s note, patrons were  given a choice. They could have the now familiar free cast list or purchase a more detailed programme with cast list and potted biographies of the cast, director and designer, plus a longer director’s note (sometimes also a designer’s note with costume sketches), comments on the play or the themes discussed by Shakespeare and photographs of either rehearsals or the production itself.

Such programmes paved the way for the splendid ones we are enjoying in this special Birthday Season with so many fascinating and informative articles. Plus the more detailed bio and photos of the ensembles, not forgetting for posterity  the information about THE COMPANY and what our theatres now offer – including forthcoming productions up to March next year.

Many thanks to our compilers and editors -Michelle and Lucy! As well as the productions themselves, these programmes are wonderful souvenirs of this historic moment in not only RSC history but also British  and World Theatre generally.

The productions of JULIUS CAESAR and THE TEMPEST, which I have previously mentioned, also gave me the opportunity to begin to see the fruits of the work of an ensemble and to become familiar with the work of company members who would appear with the RSC over many seasons to come:

Jeffery Dench ( Ligarius and Flavius), Clifford Rose (Soothsayer), David Warner (Cinna the poet and Trinculo), John Normington (Lucilius and a Cobbler ), Susan Engel (Calphurnia and Juno), Cherry Morris (Portia and Ceres), Janet Suzman (Iris) and Ian Holm (Ariel ). 

Fascinating to think that some of them were making their RSC debut that year!

I was now absolutely determined to return to Stratford for as many of the 1964  Quatercentenary productions as possible! Of course, that year would see productions of Shakespeare all over Britain and former company member Russell Hunter (now with the Bristol Old Vic) gently reminded audiences generally of the pitfalls of being over familiar with the plays. He suggested that in the moments before any production of one of Shakespeare’s plays began, the members of the audience should…”forget you have ever read or seen the play before”.

Without seeming arrogant, I have always followed that advice and have NEVER (yes, NEVER ) been disappointed.

And my memories of 1964?  To be continued!

Tony Boyd-Williams

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