Posts Tagged ‘John Barton’

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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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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In the summer of 1968,the RSC began a series of “new work “productions at the Aldwych Theatre to mark the occasion of the USA Presidential elections that autumn. The first of the new plays was INDIANS by Arthur Kopit and I was fortunate to obtain a ticket for the First Night -no previews in those days. I still have vivid memories of the production which was based on Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and remember the telling monologue from the actor playing the captured Geronimo -my first experience of Geoffrey Hutchings as a member of the RSC.

Earlier that year, the company had presented two new productions in Stratford and then transferred them to London after a short run by the Avon. The plays were JULIUS CAESAR (directed by John Barton) and THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (the first RSC production from Terry Hands).Geoffrey appeared in both and they ran into the following year. He showed  his remarkable versatility with the doubling of Cicero/Octavius Caesar and the comic servant Simple, the latter being given a walk out of Mack Sennett which brought the house down. Geoffrey’s flair for comedy continued with a splendid cameo as Dr Serringe in the revival of THE RELAPSE which joined the Aldwych repertoire in the spring of 1969.

His flair for playing politicians on the rising tide of fame continued back in Stratford later that year when he played Cromwell in the RSC’s first production of HENRY VIII, and my wife and I also recall his double faced tribune, Sicinius Veletus twenty years later in a production of CORIOLANUS directed by John Barton and Terry Hands. 

Geoffrey had special gifts for comedy/comic voices and we recall  with additional pleasure, his Autolycus (with Gilbert and Sullivan type patter songs) in Ronald Eyre’s 1981 production of THE WINTER’S TALE as well as his Captain Andy Hawks in the RSC/Opera North production of SHOWBOAT.

Splendid theatrical memories indeed!

Tony Boyd-Williams

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When Michael Boyd became the company’s  Artistic Director, he said that in time he would like to be able to offer the public an insight into rehearsals. Such a privilege was recently made possible with three sessions at the RSC rehearsal rooms in Arden Street, each entitled THE MORTE D’ARTHUR – AN EXPLORATION. Although my wife and I could only get along to the final session on 1st May, it was an event to be savoured and long remembered.

 Not only did Greg Doran share where the company are with rehearsals and how certain scenes from the book are being staged, but also there was an opportunity to hear from adaptor Mike Poulton and Movement Director Struan Leslie about their input into the project.


The other memorable aspect of the session was to hear Greg in conversation with RSC Advisory Director and legend John Barton about staging fight sequences now and in the early days of the company (John recalled amusing moments when he rehearsed the heavy sword sequences in The Wars of the Roses), as well as the language of Malory and the importance of incorporating certain words into the script. They also discussed the influence of Morte D’Arthur on Shakespeare’s Histories.

It was an additional  treat to hear John Barton reading the latter pages of Malory’s epic work in a way which made it clear why the language of any theatrical presentation is  so important. it will indeed be exciting to see how Malory’s epic is translated into the space of The Courtyard.

 There was quite a buzz of anticipation and enthusiasm as we all left the rehearsal rooms. Many thanks to all who made the events possible and how very generous that they were free.

  Tony Boyd-Williams

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