At the end of the week in which the Royal Shakespeare Theatre reopened its doors to the public, and on what turned out to be one of the coldest nights of the year, we were all invited to “Builders’ Night” to celebrate. Actors Joe Dixon (a memorable Bottom two years ago) and Katy Stephens (from the current company) hosted an evening which mixed speeches from RSC Artistic Director Michael Boyd, Executive Director Vikki Heywood, Deputy Chairman of the RSC Board Lady Susie Sainsbury and project director Peter Wilson with an entertainment. This began with an echo of the last production in the theatre before all the building work started – a fanfare from the 2007 Coriolanus – and then looked even further back with the overture played at the original Shakespeare Memorial Theatre’s opening in 1879.
RSC Honorary Associate Artist Jane Lapotaire once again graced the stage, reading John Masefield’s poem written for the re-opening of the theatre in 1932 after its destruction by fire in 1926. RSC Associate Artist Julian Glover performed the Prologue from Henry V as the drama students had done at the licensing event 3 weeks earlier. Unbelievably, Julian had first appeared at the theatre in 1957 and had understudied Paul Robeson as Othello in 1959. Kate Tempest, a young rap artist, brought things up to date with a specially written piece emphasising that Shakespeare and the theatre are, and will remain, relevant so long as we are human beings.
Actor Ian Hughes, backed by a chorus of four, delivered a musical vote of thanks to a very large number of people in the form of a patter song to the tune of “I am the very model of a modern major general”! Stratford College students, together with David Rubin from the current company, performed a dance representing the deer hunts from this season’s productions of As You Like It and Morte D’Arthur. Not to be outdone, Peter Wilson and some of the construction staff did a dance too. Rab Bennett, Simon Erridge, and Alasdair McKenzie from Bennetts Associates, the architects of the theatre’s transformation, delivered their own version of the famous satirical class sketch performed by John Cleese, Ronnie Barker, and Ronnie Corbett in the 1960s!
Fittingly the performance was brought to an end with the blessing of the house from A Midsummer Night’s Dream accompanied by Paul Englishby’s beautiful score from Greg Doran’s magical 2005/2008 production:
"Through the house give glimmering light…….
And each several chamber bless
Through this palace with sweet peace;
And the owner of it blessed
Ever shall in safety rest."
So a new chapter has opened in the history of the world’s greatest Shakespeare company. Just before we prepared to go back out into the icy night, I made a toast with my friends – to all those who had gone before; the actors, the production staff, the audiences – and to all those to come.
The RSC has come home – go and see it.
Images are © Shakespeare Birthplace Trust unless otherwise stated.