Posts Tagged ‘Peter Hall’

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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Something that sounds really interesting coming up over the next couple of weeks on Radio 4 – 

Over the past 10 months the RSC have been working with Radio 4’s James Naughtie and his Producer, Beaty Rubens to create a three part documentary about the Company being 50.

As part of the series James explores how the Company first came into being in 1961;  the creation of the Ensemble system;  some landmark productions and the opening production, Macbeth, in the RST.  The RSC have worked with James and Beaty to give exclusive breadth of access to the key people from the last half century including the voices of all five of the artistic directors –  Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn, Terry Hands, Adrian Noble and Michael Boyd;  as well as Peter Brook, Cicely Berry, Judi Dench, Patrick Stewart and David Tennant; plus the wider team of artists, technicians and specialists who support the actors on stage.   The transmission dates are below:

The Ensemble:            Tuesday 5th April 11.30 am

The First Ten Years:   Tuesday 12th April 11.30 am

The  New Theatre       Tuesday 19th April 11.30 am

Happy Listening   http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0101p01

by Jane Cromack

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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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