For sale on the Internet, ” A Souvenir Theatre Brochure, rumpled, one corner slightly nibbled, else VGC, £10.”
The year 1965. The event, producer Peter Daubeny’s “World Theatre Season,” at London’s Aldwych Theatre.
The Aldwych, seating 1100, built for the actor/manager Seymour Hicks opened in 1905. In 1960 it became the London home of the newly formed Royal Shakespeare Company whose base was in Stratford-upon-Avon. For all but one of the years between 1964 and 1975 it was also a seasonal home to Daubeny’s “World Theatre Season.”
Daubeny’s first season in 1964 was part of Shakespeare’s Quarto-Centenary celebrations, the season consisting of foreign plays in the original, performed by foreign companies.In the Spring of 1965, the invited companies were the Theatre de France, the Compagnia dei Giovanni, the Habimah Theatre of Israel, the Actor’s Studio from New York and the Greek Arts Theatre.
In January 1965, I was working at the Mermaid Theatre in London in their annual production of “Treasure Island,” with Sir Bernard Miles as Long John. The Mermaid was a perfect riverside venue to watch Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral cortege sailing down the Thames on a launch as London’s dockland cranes dipped their arms in salute.
In the summer I took part in the filming of a new television series called, “Diary of a Young Man,” with Victor Henry and Nerys Hughes. The series was written by Troy Kennedy-Martin, the creator of “Z-cars” and John McGrath, a talented Scots writer. One of the co-directors was a young man called Ken Loach. The series was shown on the BBC from August 8th to September 12th and was succesful enough to be repeated a few months later.
Shortly after that, I joined Jimmy Bolam and Rodney Bewes in the Dick Clements and Ian LaFrenais BBCTV series, “The Likely Lads” first aired in December 1964.
So I felt I wasn’t doing too badly for a 22-year-old as 1965 began.
Later in the year I heard that the RSC were reviving a Stratford production of “Henry V” at the Aldwych Theatre and considering actors for other productions.
Daubeny’s “World Theatre Season” was then at the Aldwych and the company in residence on the day of my audition for the RSC director, John Barton was the Greek Arts Theatre. My appointment was for five o’clock on a sunny Saturday afternoon between the Arts Theatre’s matinée and evening performances.
I’d been asked to prepare two “pieces” and settled on Hamlet’s, “To be or not to be,” (one has no fear at 22) and the opening Chorus from Troilus and Cressida, “In Troy, there lies the scene..” In between the Troilus Chorus and Hamlet’s speech with John Barton and his assistant listening in the darkened stalls, I was vaguely aware of a large, costumed figure moving silently about in the wings.
To my astonishment, I was invited to join the RSC there and then, although I suspect that being large enough to carry a spear had a lot to do with it. In the event, I did get to play some parts and the following Spring was offered a three-year Associate Artist’s contract. A season which would include me playing Guildenstern in Hamlet and being understudy to David Warner’s Hamlet.
As I climbed the stone dressing room stairs, in a bit of a daze, from the stage to the stage door, a large barrel-chested Greek actor from the Arts Theatre company came out of one of the dressing rooms, the same man I’d noticed in the wings.
He looked at me, grabbed me in a bear hug and grinned, “Hamlet, Hamlet.”