For about a year I’ve been thinking about recording people’s memories of Shakespeare in performance, and at last I’ve got some results to share.
In April 2012’s Shakespeare Association of America conference I heard paper after paper by Shakespeare scholars and students in which they referred to performances which they’d either seen themselves, had a conversation with someone who had seen it, or had read a written account. Research depends on the quality of the sources available: prompt books, photographs and reviews, and for modern productions sound or video recordings, yes, but what about the vivid impressions that still exist in the memories of those who saw or worked on productions? Nobody it seemed was capturing them, so I decided that I would have a try.
As a taster I’ve chosen three extracts from recordings I’ve made so far, where people recall a production that was very much of its time, the RSC 1965 David Warner Hamlet directed by Peter Hall. Just click on the orange arrow to begin the recording, and click again to stop.
First of all, there’s a clip from Carol Malcolmson who attended a Wednesday matinee on a school trip, aged seventeen, having never seen the play before.
The second clip is Bryan Palin, who was already a keen theatregoer. Having failed to get tickets in 1965 he queued for day tickets in 1966.
Finally this is Roger Howells, who was the stage manager on the production in 1965. He attended all the rehearsals, and was involved in all the technical aspects of the performance as well as cueing each performance from a little box just off the stage. He talks about how they turned the director’s idea of how to stage the ghost into reality.
These are only short clips of what was in each case an interview that went on for up to half an hour. I’d like to thank each of the interviewees for taking part in what I hope will develop into a larger project.
My aim is to build up a digital archive of recordings that could be useful to future performance historians as well as researchers in other fields. Why do we remember some details and not others, do we remember the actual event or is our memory changed by talking to people, by reading reviews, or by looking at photographs? When we remember an image captured by a photographer, is it because it was a perfect representation of the moment, or has the image somehow supplanted the memory? Do subsequent events influence how we remember the past? And why do we want to be members of the audience for a live performance, sometimes revisiting it a number of times, rather than just watching a film?