Monday, April 30, 2012

Suicide Is Dangerous

(picture courtesy of Clipart ETC)

 Battling tiresome insomnia the night before the Queensland Theatre Company’s new production of Romeo and Juliet opened I dipped into one of my favourite theatre references, The Everyman Book of Theatrical Anecdotes.

How wonderful to garnish such a night with a chuckle or two.

The work, edited by the splendid Donald – now Sir Donald - Sinden ,  covers a rich history of the British theatre from Elizabethan Theatre to the almost present day .

I discovered what a  wonderful unaffected man Sir Donald was when he came to Brisbane with his Shakespearean pals – including Ian Richardson, Derek Jacobi and  Diana Rigg – to give us The Hollow Crown.

The Hollow Crown is a delightful feast of speeches, stories and more covering the monarchy from William the Conqueror to Queen Victoria.

We had both recently given up smoking and promised our respective wives that the nasty weed would never touch our lips again, so naturally we snuck out the back at the after party and shared a puff.

Very naughty but somehow satisfying.

Back to Romeo and Juliet.

Stumbled upon the American actress Anna Cora Mowatt, who discovered the hard way that suicide was dangerous as she played Juliet in Cincinatti as a young woman.

Anna Cora – known as Lily – was apparently a tad forgetful and would often
resort to grabbing Romeo’s knife for the all important death scene.

One night she expressed such energy and enthusiasm that the dead lover was moved to  come back to life and shatter the silence with: “Look out it’s very sharp.”

That wasn’t the end of it, however, as educator and theatre identity Eric Woollencott Barnes recalls in this account of a hasty property man giving the actress the first bottle which came to hand:

“The bottle was duly turned over to Juliet on the stage, some whispered injunction of which Anna Cora caught only the words…’so take care’. She thought no more about the matter until she swallowed the potion.

“The she noticed a brilliant red stain on her fingers when they came away from her mouth.

“Viewed from the audience it most have been very picturesque.

“Lily’s own reactions were less pleasant, when at the end of the close of the scene the prompter rushed on crying: ‘Good gracious you have been drinking from my bottle of ink!’

"She smiled bravely and uttered the words of the dying wit under similar circumstances: ‘Let me swallow a sheet of blotting paper.’ “

The present production at the Playhouse Theatre, which is I understand both red ink and blotting paper free, continues till May 13.

 I will be posting something on the production, which features Melanie Zanetti and Thomas Larkin as Juliet’s Romeo under the direction of Jennifer Flowers, within a day or so.

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