Royal Shakespeare Company exhibition text
Which household name made his first appearance in Shakespeare as a court jester? What fruit makes the perfect fake eyeball? And how do you make realistic but light-weight chain mail?*
Secrets and stories take centre stage at Stratford in a new permanent exhibition The Play’s The Thing. As text-writer, I worked with the in-house team to interpret the costumes, designs and props linked with some of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s biggest stars.
There were plenty of behind-the-scenes mysteries and memories to work with in writing the labels. The biggest challenge was to make sure my references to Shakespeare’s plays made sense, even for people like me who enjoyed studying Romeo and Juliet at school, but then opted to focus on science.
A four-hundred-year-old book introduces the exhibition – a rare copy of the collected works of Shakespeare made by his friends a few years after he died. Without it, half of these ageless plays could have been lost.
At opening, the exhibition included David Tennant’s first RSC costume, when he auditioned for the lead role in As You Like It, but stole the show as the jester Touchstone. There was also a costume with a secret – a harness that allowed its wearer to fly weightlessly above the stage as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Since then, I have written label updates for a changing range of exhibits brought out of the company’s extensive archives.
There’s an interactive A to Z of stage props and tricks, including the lychees that serve as the gory gouged-out eyeballs of the unfortunate Earl of Gloucester in King Lear.
If you visit, do take the chance to speak lines opposite a virtual RSC actor, try on digital costumes and enter the world of the set designer, as you explore the eternal appeal of Shakespeare.
*About the chain mail: you knit it and then cover it with metallic paint.