A wonderful year of united cheer
May I, before the year ends, take the opportunity to thank The Stage, its readers, and other supporters for what was finally achieved at the grass roots with an unprecedented celebration of the fun and beauty of Shakespeare’s work by everyone, everywhere, in all parts of Britain.
This was Shakespeare United for 2012, first launched by West London Equity Branch members in 2004, twice endorsed by Equity’s annual conferences, but most importantly also supported by other enthusiasts throughout the UK, having given muscle and credibility to London’s bid for the Olympic Games in 2006. The Stage was more than helpful, as were the many readers who took part.
The initiative did very well at ground level, considering that no financial support was given by Arts Council England or any other funding body, and little or no moral support by the top-down cultural organisers. Kind words did come from the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Over two years, individual Equity members contributed to the project from their own pockets, with one person donating all their television repeat fees over a period of four years to help the scheme.
Thanks to the dedication and imagination of many individuals, the following are a few of Shakespeare United’s achievements – with apologies to the many whose names and activities are too numerous to mention. Their work was brilliant, and with no help from ‘the powers that be’.
There were, for example, regular and joyous ‘Shakespeare Shuffles’ – open house events especially for young people – in West London from 2008 until this autumn.
New plays about Shakespeare were commissioned and professionally produced, including Propaganda by Robert Cohen and The Other Shakespeare by Roy Chatfield. These created paid and contracted work for writers and performers. A specially commissioned play – Shakespeare’s Queen Elizabeth the Second – was brilliantly produced in Bromyard on the Diamond Jubilee weekend, and then at the birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Shakespeare workshops were held over several weeks with young Muslims, and also with Muslim mothers and children.
Primary schoolchildren performed their own version of The Tempest, and 40 of them were taken, as a treat by Shakespeare United, to Stratford to visit the birthplace, the church and New Place.
Ex-National Theatre actor Peter Searles performed Shakespeare with the homeless in East London. Andrew Jarvis presented the project with the Shakespeare United Cup.
Open-air performance, song, music and a Shakespeare quiz were held in John O’Groats, with modest financial help from Shakespeare United. This was especially welcomed and admired for the organisational dexterity with which it was carried out. Several regional theatres also agreed to tie in their Shakespeare productions with the programme.
The bard’s poetry was presented by Equity members at Garrick’s Temple, and several other branches did fantastic work in similar initiatives – all, again, ignored by the Cultural Olympiad, which, research indicates, was generally unheard of by most people across the UK.
The purpose of this effort over eight years was to bring Shakespeare, truly and fully, to all the people of Britain. Equity backed us with a steering committee, and enthusiasts in all walks of life, teachers especially, rallied to the project.
It may be said that this was yet another case where the grass roots – ie ‘ordinary’ men and women – showed more imagination and commitment than the prevailing top-down attitude of appointed organisers.
But look forward! We shall be trying again in 2016 – to mark, all together, Shakespeare’s death in 1616. If readers of The Stage would like to join in a truly great people’s celebration, please get in touch via our site, www.shakespeare2012.com
Equity was right to take on case
There have been assertions that Equity did not exercise sufficient rigour when deciding to support members who had been defamed by their agent (News, November 29, page 4). These assertions are hopelessly inaccurate.
The Equity Council decided to support the three members concerned after receiving a leading barrister’s opinion that there would be a substantial chance of winning. That opinion proved to be 100% accurate – the defamation case was won.
Two days before the case was heard in the high court, it was revealed that in his witness statement one of the members being supported had lied. He had lied to his solicitor, lied to Equity and lied to the court about a particular gig he falsely claimed had been cancelled.
The judge made it clear that Equity is now facing legal bills of hundreds of thousands of pounds as a result of this lying, and for no other reason.
For any member to attack the Equity Council or Equity staff in such circumstances is absurd and beneath contempt.
Malcolm Sinclair, Jean Rogers, David Cockayne, Bryn Evans and Christine Payne, on behalf of the Equity Council
Upper St Martin’s Lane
Mona’s ballet was a wartime treat
The recent, excellent BBC Radio 4 Blackout Ballet programme brought back a lot of happy memories.
In March 1944, I was in the Royal Air Force, in civvy billets at Wolverhampton, and a regular visitor to the Hippodrome and Grand theatres. However, I did not go to the Grand in the first week as it was the ballet, which I knew nothing about. When challenged about this, I decided to give it a try and went along to see the International Ballet.
The programme included Spanish Interlude, Endymion and Giselle, and I enjoyed it so much that I went again two nights later and watched Swan Lake and Everyman from the gods. I was hooked, and caught up with them again the following June, at the Savoy Theatre.
Needless to add, I did not let on to my fellow airmen and lied that I had spent the evenings revising the work I was supposed to do.
Thank you Mona Inglesby, and your International Ballet Company.
Memories of the young JR
I was 12 when I first met Larry Hagman, when he was barely 20. It was 1951, and we were working together in the original production of South Pacific, which opened in November of that year, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. His mother, Mary Martin, starred in the show, and I took the role of Ngana, the Polynesian child who sang Dites Moi.
Larry’s half-sister Heller used to come to my dressing room, and we would pass the time playing Monopoly.
Larry and I met up again to celebrate the 50th anniversary of South Pacific’s opening and to celebrate the centenary of the composer Richard Rodgers.
It was with great sadness that I received the news of his death. He was a lovely person who will be greatly missed.