Todmorden U3A: Love affair with Royal Shakespeare company

Dr Mary Holmes with Jean Pearson of  U3A Todmorden. Photo by Roger Howard.
Dr Mary Holmes with Jean Pearson of U3A Todmorden. Photo by Roger Howard.

The August meeting was a proper coup de théâtre as Dr Mary Holmes took members through her love affair with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).

This was an historical-comical-personal performance in which Mary gave us a resumé of the RSC’s history and recent productions. Her talk was also packed with anecdotes making fun of her own serious theatrophilia.

The RSC’s 1932 theatre, designed by Elizabeth Scott, with its proscenium arch has recently been deemed unsympathetic to modern directors, actors and audiences.

In 2007-2011 it was replaced by a Shakespearean courtyard space seating 1,040 people. No one is now more than 15 metres from the stage, so performances are more intimate.

This primary theatre is complemented by The Swan (a smaller but similar auditorium) and The Other Place which is a flexible space allowing for more experimental performances.

Such experimentation has recently included a Stratford-relevant production titled ‘The Truce’. Set in World War 1, this included a tear-jerking simultaneous rendering of Silent Night and Stille Nacht.

On one occasion, Mary had an unusual encounter in the ‘Dirty Duck’ after a particularly bloody performance of ‘Titus Andronicus’ in which severed heads were presented to Titus in Sainsbury’s bags.

Stephen Boxer, who had been playing Titus, came into the pub for an after-show drink, carrying a full Sainsbury’s bag and bumped our speaker with it.

On hearing her distress, he assured her it was only his sandwiches. Mary’s recent RSC highlights include having seen all the Wars of the Roses plays in which 34 actors played all 264 roles over a period of two years.

Seeing Dr Who (David Tennant playing Hamlet) killing Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart playing Claudius) was also clearly a delight. Mary concluded by taking us on her own virtual tour of the new theatre and by sharing her photos of Mossop the Lurcher (playing Crab the dog in ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’) outside his very own dressing-room kennel.

We are very grateful to Mary for this entertaining talk, delivered appropriately unmiked, and we should acknowledge that she gives all proceeds from her speaking to Cancer Research UK.

Our homegrown showcase speaker this month was Mary Findon, who introduced the craft group. The group is suitable for anyone who is keen to learn new skills, is not averse to experimenting with materials and odd tools, and is happy to part with a small sum for hire of the Fielden Centre and for materials. ‘Give it a go’, is the favoured approach!

U3A Todmorden’s next meeting will be held on Thursday, September 21 in the Central Methodist Hall in Todmorden at 1.45pm. Trevor Moody replaces our scheduled speaker the Rev Christine Griffiths, who is ill. His talk is entitled ‘The History of Hardcastle Crags and Gibson Mill’. Visit, email or call 01706 812015.