Page last updated at 10:57 GMT, Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Bequeathed skull stars in Hamlet

David Tennant in Hamlet. Copyright: Ellie Kurtzz/RSC
Tennant was the first actor to use the skull in a performance of Hamlet

The skull held aloft by actor David Tennant in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Hamlet was a real one, it has been revealed.

Pianist Andre Tchaikowsky left his skull to the RSC when he died in 1982 in the hope it would be used on stage.

But since his death at the age of 46, it had only been used in rehearsals.

Tennant held it on stage during the famous "Alas, poor Yorick" scene in 22 performances at the Courtyard Theatre, in Stratford-upon-Avon.

THE STORY OF THE SKULL
October 1979 - Mr Tchaikowsky writes his will, bequeathing his skull to the RSC
June 1982 - He dies of cancer, aged 46
July 1982 - Terry Hands, the RSCs artistic director, accepts the bequest
August 1982 - Mr Tchaikowsky's unusual bequest is reported in The Times
1982-1984 - The skull spends two years on the roof of an RSC building to be 'aired'
1984 - The skull is used for a photo session with actor Roger Rees to promote that season's production of Hamlet
1989 - Mark Rylance rehearses with the skull, but a cast is used for the performances
August 2008 - Mr Tchaikowsky's wish to appear in Shakespeare's play Hamlet as the skull of Yorick is finally realised

The Doctor Who star has been lauded for his performance as Hamlet since it opened in Shakespeare's home town in August.

But it was not revealed that Tennant used a real skull in the play's most famous scene.

Mr Tchaikowsky, an acclaimed composer and concert pianist, died of cancer in 1982 aged 46 and donated his body for medical science.

In his will he wrote that his skull "shall be offered by the institution receiving my body to the Royal Shakespeare Company for use in theatrical performance".

Since then it has only been used in rehearsals because no actor felt comfortable enough using it on stage in front of an audience.

In 1989 actor Mark Rylance rehearsed with it for a while, but in the end it was decided using the skull for performances would not be appropriate.

Instead, Rylance used a cast of Mr Tchaikowsky's skull, and the real thing was returned to the props department, where it resided in a tissue-lined box for almost 20 years.

It remained there until Greg Doran, who directed Tennant in Hamlet, retrieved it for his production.

"It was sort of a little shock tactic. Though, of course, to some extent that wears off and it's just André, in his box," Doran told the Daily Telegraph.

He added that he did not want the story to get out before Hamlet opened. He said: "I thought it would topple the play and it would be all about David acting with a real skull."

It is thought the skull will also be used when Hamlet transfers to London on 9 December.

RSC curator David Howells: "We hope Mr Tchaikowsky would have been pleased that his final wish has been realised in Gregory Doran's acclaimed production of Hamlet."

Print Sponsor


SEE ALSO
Review: David Tennant in Hamlet
06 Aug 08 |  Entertainment
Mixed response to Tennant's play
06 Aug 08 |  Entertainment
Hamlet Who?
06 Aug 08 |  Today
Doctor Who signing ban at Hamlet
24 Jul 08 |  Entertainment
Tennant on Who and Hamlet
08 Jun 08 |  Entertainment
David Tennant named 'best Dr Who'
06 Dec 06 |  Entertainment

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific