Famous faces at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre
y mother had a block booking with what was then the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (now the Royal Shakespeare Theatre) at Stratford-on-Avon, getting two tickets in the front of the balcony every Wednesday (she had to pay for them, but they were always reserved for her - a facility they stopped in later years). As a result I saw all the Shakespeare productions from the early 1950s into the mid 1960s, after which it got impracticable for me as I was by then working in London.
I saw a number of remarkable productions, many with actors who later became major stars as well as people who were already major stars. I can't remember the dates in most cases, but here are some I saw:
The Tempest with Margaret Leighton as Ariel (this was around 1952).
Peter Hall's marvellous 1959 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream with Judi Dench as Titania, Ian Holm as Puck, Ian Richardson as Oberon, and Charles Laughton as Bottom.
King Lear with Charles Laughton, the same year.
Twelfth Night with Laurence Olivier as Malvolio (early 1950s).
Coriolanus, again with Olivier.
Othello with John Gielgud of all people (fairly disastrous) and a much better production with Paul Robeson, and Sam Wanamaker as Iago.
The Merchant of Venice with Peter O'Toole as Shylock - I think this was his first big break.
The Taming of the Shrew with Janet Suzman as Kate.
The Wars of the Roses (Henry VI and RIchard III as a trilogy -1963/4) with Ian Holm as Gloucester/Richard, David Warner as Henry VI and Peggy Ashcroft as Queen Margaret.
Hamlet with David Warner playing the Prince in a long Dr. Who-type scarf for some reason.
Apart from the Shakespeare I also remember The Cherry Orchard with Gielgud, and an imaginative production of Marlowe's Dr. Faustus with Eric Porter - the creatures from hell were done in the style of Heronymus Bosch and at the first interval I heard a woman several rows back comment 'It's sorta jimmicky, innit'.
Although the audiences often seemed to be half schoolchildren and half foreign visitors, they seemed to appreciate the productions: I certainly did.
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Posted: Mon - December 4, 2006 at 09:03 AM by Roger Wilmut
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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM