KES ARCHIVE
The Changing 'sixties
King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon 1963-1981

 

"Playing Day at Stratford", 1964

Players perform the Famous Victories in the Guildhall whilst William dreams
The players perform the 'Famous Victories' in the Guildhall whilst William dreams: with a teenage Tim Pigott-Smith as the leading player/Henry V and Chris Franklin as William/Katherine

In 1964 the world's attention turned to Stratford-upon-Avon in order to celebrate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth. The school's contribution was an entertainment called "Playing Day at Stratford". In the following articles the then headmaster and the two principal players remember those performances.

 

Mr Wood's aim in constructing "Playing Day at Stratford" was to try to show how Shakespeare's schooldays and plays which he probably viewed in the Guildhall contributed to his writings. The play also shows his youthful enthusiasm for the theatre and forecasts his eventual transformation of old plays through the power of poetry. The authenticity of the setting, golden summer evenings and the youthful attack of an enthusiastic company, led by two talented boys as Henry V and Will Shakespeare, combined to bring Mr Wood's play triumphantly to life. Always entertaining, frequently instructive and sometimes very moving, Playing Day at Stratford contributed five memorable evenings to the 400th anniversary celebration.

Stephen Pratt, headmaster 1963-1981

 

To celebrate the quatercentenary of Shakespeare's birth in 1964, our English master devised "Playing Day at Stratford" in which I was the leading actor of a touring company invited by Will's father to perform "The Famous Victories of King Henry V" - a popular Elizabethan chronicle - in Big School. In our play Will came to watch the visiting players with his father. "The Famous Victories" is a crude simplistic drama, better suited to boy actors than the more complex Hal and Henry plays which Shakespeare later crafted from them. When the performance was over, John Shakespeare thanked the players, paid them and bade them farewell. In the charged atmosphere that followed their departure, young William fell asleep on the empty stage, and prophetically dreamt his yet-to-be-written Henry delivering the famous Agincourt speech.

The fact that we were performing in one of the original buildings of the old school, which Shakespeare had known as a boy, gave real edge to a piece of theatre which showed us the moment of Will's infatuation with the stage. It captured perfectly the spark that got a village lad from Stratford, where there was little theatre to speak of, to London, where a theatrical revolution was beginning. This moment was so true, it was almost as though Shakespeare was there, briefly, with us.

Tim Pigott-Smith, pupil 1964
From Writers and Their Houses, Hamish Hamilton 1993, with permission

 

1964 was of course a very exciting year for the town with the quatercentenary celebrations. I was a new boy in the school, in the first-form with Alan Wood as my form master. As I recall, a list was posted in the corridor opposite the chem lab for those interested in auditioning for parts. I already had an interest in the theatre, being fortunate enough to have seen Christopher Plummer as Richard III in 1963, and I saw the whole trilogy of the Wars of the Roses directed by Peter Hall and with fantastic casts including Ian Holm, David Warner and Dame Peggy Ashcroft. During the '64 season I read for the dual roles of William Shakespeare/Princess Katherine of France, and what possibly clinched it was the fact that having had some private French lessons, I was able to produce a reasonably authentic accent, though on reflection it's probably as well that "'Allo, 'Allo" was not on TV at that time!

We rehearsed after school a couple of times a week initially then, as we approached the big day, on Saturday mornings as well. To my knowledge the script would only have undergone minor alterations once written, I cannot remember Alan Wood saying, "We'll have to cut that!". From later experience with him when I played Perdita in "Winter's Tale" with the long and difficult 'flower speech', he had the patience and ability to make you work through the problem and solve it by helping you to understand it. That probably sums up his direction; patient and understanding, with a positive approach as to how he wanted the final product. I believe that he had enormous satisfaction in seeing the transformation from us 'snotty' schoolboys into 'actors'. He really made us believe in what we were doing.

The play opened with the audience seated in the courtyard just off the quad by the HM's study. I don't remember any weather problems (we had real summers then), but it was an ideal location to set the scene, with me as young Will receiving catechism from my tutor, who was Terry Wincott wearing a Clouseau-type false beard. Ushers then guided the audience into Guildhall while we shot up to Big School for costume change and make-up, courtesy of Mrs Pigott-Smith. From Big School, we used the narrow staircase from the library down it to the Armoury, from whence we made our exits and entrances. A public address system was rigged up to BS so we knew how far the play had processed, so there was no real problem with overcrowding before going on stage.

As ever, the parents and friends who attended were very supportive of the cast, I believe that a lot of visitors to the town also saw the play, and as a whole it was received very, very well. Time allows you to put a different perspective on events, and looking back I think how lucky I was to have been part of that production.

Chris Franklin, pupil 1964

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Read the School magazine review of this production at Scribd.

 

 

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