Page last updated at 16:04 GMT, Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Pianist's skull is used in Hamlet

David Tennant with skull
David Tennant rehearsing with a replica skull

The skull of an Oxfordshire man has finally made it to the stage, 26 years after he donated it to the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).

Concert pianist and Holocaust survivor Andrew Tchaikowsky moved to Oxford after World War II.

It was his dying wish to have his skull used in Hamlet and so he bequeathed it to the RSC.

Actor David Tennant was the first actor to use Mr Tchaikowsky's skull during Hamlet's well-known grave-digger scene.

Mr Tchaikowsky was devoted to Shakespeare, often visiting Stratford-Upon-Avon to see performances of his plays.

He died of cancer at the age of 46 in 1982 and donated his organs to medical research.

We also didn't want to put off actors who were squeamish or had a religious objection
David Howells, RSC Curator

But the pianist made one exception.

He wanted his skull to be left to the RSC "for use in theatrical performance".

"He was an unusual character. Some people were shocked that he'd left his skull to the theatre. But his friends weren't surprised at all," said Dave Ferre who now runs a website dedicated to the pianist.

Until now, the skull had only been used in rehearsals.

"The skull had never been used on stage before because we were concerned about its fragility," explained RSC curator David Howells.

"We also didn't want to put off actors who were squeamish or had a religious objection."

Family 'delighted'

But Hamlet's current director Greg Doran decided to retrieve the skull from its box in the archives.

He said he wanted to make the performance as real as possible.

David Tennant, known for his portrayal of Dr Who, has been using the skull during Hamlet's run at Stratford-Upon-Avon.

It has yet to be decided if it will be used when the play moves to London in December.

Mr Tchaikowsky's family said they were delighted that his skull had at long last been used on stage.

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