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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Alas, poor.......Andre?

David Tennant realises pianist's dying wish by using the skull he left in his will to play 'Alas, poor Yorick' scene in Hamlet

By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 11:11 PM on 25th November 2008

As an acclaimed musician, Andre Tchaikowsky lived his life to the sound of applause. Now in death, it continues.

The Polish pianist, who died in 1982, bequeathed his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company.

And after more than 25 years of waiting in the wings, it is finally starring in the company's latest production of Hamlet.

It is used in act five, scene one, when a grave-digger unearths the skull of the jester Yorick. Hamlet, holding it close, declares: 'Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.'

David Tennant, best known for his role in the BBC's Doctor Who, plays Hamlet in the RSC production. He is the first actor to use Mr Tchaikowsky's skull on stage.

In the years since the bequest, it has only been used in rehearsals as no actor has felt comfortable using it in performance. Replicas have been used instead.

Greg Doran, director of the current play, is said to have wanted 'to make the performance as real as possible' and retrieved the skull from its tissue-lined box at the RSC archive.

Mr Tchaikowsky was a Holocaust survivor who emigrated to Britain at the age of four.

He was devoted to Shakespeare, often visiting the Bard's home town of Stratford-Upon-Avon.

He died of cancer aged 46 and in his will asked that his organs be donated for medical research - and his skull given to the RSC for use in its productions.

Mr Tchaikowsky emigrated to Oxford in 1942 at the age of four and regularly visited Shakespeare's Stratford-Upon-Avon.

He died of cancer aged 46 in 1982 and in his will he stated it was his wish for his organs to be donated for medical science.

But he added the odd proviso: '...with the exception of my skull, which shall be offered by the institution receiving my body to the Royal Shakespeare Company for use in theatrical performance.'

Since then, his skull has largely been stored in a tissue-lined box kept within a box in a climate-controlled room at the RSC archives.

David Howells, curator of the archives, said: 'It has never been used on stage before.

'In 1989 the actor Mark Rylance rehearsed with it for quite a while but he couldn't get past the fact it wasn't Yorick's, it was Andre Tchaikowsky's.

'That, and the fear of an accident and it being slightly macabre, was why they decided not to use it and used an exact replica.

'You will probably have to go back to the early 19th century for the last time a real human skull was used in a production of Hamlet.

'Various people have known about its existence before and the director for the current production, Greg Doran, knew about it and was interested in using it.'

'I think he wanted to make the performance as real as possible.'

The RSC had to apply for special permission to use the skull from the Human Tissue Authority as it is less than 100 years old.

Unbeknown to the audience and most of the production crew Tennant appeared with it for 22 performances during the recent run.

Mr Doran, who made the decision to use it, explained why he didn't want anyone to know.

He said: 'I thought it would topple the play and it would be all about David acting with a real skull.

'It was sort of a little shock tactic though, of course, to some extent that wore off and it was just Andre, in his box.'

Dave Ferre, a friend of the Tchaikowsky family and who runs his official website, said: 'That was Andre's dream and this is great news, the family will be pleased.'

I find this fascinating. Using a real skull! I hope someone asks David what it felt like to act while holding Andre's skull for those 22 performances.

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