The 2008 casts of the RSC Hamlet, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream - photos from Keith Osborn’s book, Something Written in the State of Denmark (and one additional Theatre Appeal photo too)
Excerpt(s) from Keith Osborn’s book (some of the bits about David’s back):
Friday 5th December:
I sit next to Andrea in the theatre stalls and she tells me she’s on standby to go on for Penny, as Penny is unwell and might not make the performance. And someone else is missing… before Greg starts to share his thoughts on last night’s show he informs us that David’s back is very painful and he is resting in his dressing room. Furthermore, whilst intending to start the show he may not be able to complete it - cue collective intake of breath - so Ed is on standby too; talk about sorrows not coming single spies. Notes continue as normally and some even finer tuning is tuned.
We have a fight call before every show at 6:15. David has emerged from his room and has taken some powerful painkillers, which he confesses have made him feel ‘a bit pissed’. His movement seems a little restricted but not too bad as we go through the fight, although I worry that the painkillers might mask further damage. Penny has recovered sufficiently well that she can go on too, armed with cold remedy and a mountain of tissues.
The strangeness of the situation hits me as I head down from my dressing room after beginners is called; the evening is balanced on a knife-edge. David’s wonderful wit and quickness of thought is manifest in the sharpness and dexterity of the physical life he brings to Hamlet, which he sustains throughout the play. It’s stating the bleedin’ obvious but Hamlet is a very demanding part indeed, mentally and physically. Also never mind the show, he must be in a lot of pain for there to be any doubt about him performing. That said, Ed is very well prepared and if we have to stop then so be it - it’s only a play and David’s health is more important. In the wings, waiting to go on for the first scene, I try to forget the situation and concentrate on the job at hand. All goes well and he turns in a great performance as ever, sitting down or moving around whenever he needs to ease his back, but nothing the audience would have noticed.
Saturday 6th December:
David is sitting on the stage. ‘How’s the back?’ He shakes his head, ‘Not great.’ It hasn’t changed since yesterday.
Again we get through the play, in the last scene I can see that he is in quite some discomfort. Well it’s the end of the week - surely a day off and rest will have him bouncing back right as rain on Monday.
Monday 8th December:
[…] But then the phone rings - “You’re going to have a very interesting show tonight… David is off. His back is still very bad and so Ed will be on tonight.” […]
Tuesday 9th December:
Press night and it is confirmed that David is off. Poor guy, he must be devastated, as must Greg. […] We learned that David’s back was worse than hitherto realised. Following tests it transpired that he needed to have an operation and wouldn’t return before Christmas. This was a real blow as we’d all hoped that although he’s missed his own press night that he’d be off a few days and come back in a blaze of glory. How disappointing for us not to get our friend back.
[[ Keith tells of David coming in for rehearsals on Thursday 1st January to see if he can do the last week of the run - modifying some scenes to no longer pull/struggle with him due to the recent surgery ]]
Saturday 3rd January
At beginners we all gathered in the wings as Denise Wood our producer went on stage to deliver the good news. She introduced herself and then coolly announced with great aplomb: “Tonight, the role of Hamlet will be played by… David Tennant,” at which point an unbelievable cacophony of wild cheers and screams worthy of any set of fans at a rock concert erupted in the auditorium. […] It was a strange show I couldn’t but help checking that David was okay in our scenes, but the evening was a triumph and David was brilliant and as fresh as a daisy. True, he was a little slower moving about the stage, but seeing as he’s such a naturally speedy guy anyway I dare say no one would’ve noticed.There were cheers at the end and as I went to leave the theatre I popped my head round his dressing room door to say well done and check how he was. He smiled and said that he was fine though might ache a bit tomorrow.