Alas, poor Andre

Apparently, the skull used in the Tennant Hamlet we saw last month was a real one. It belonged to a concert pianist and composer – a chap by the name of Andre Tchaikowsky – who died in 1982 and left his body to science, and his skull "to the Royal Shakespeare Company for use in theatrical performance." No actor until Tennant has had the nerve to use it on stage.

"It was sort of a little shock tactic. Though, of course, to some extent that wears off and it’s just Andre, in his box," [Director] Doran told the Daily Telegraph.

Here’s a website about him. No relation to the famous Peter, though – Tchaikowsky was the name on the false papers he was given when he was smuggled out of the ghetto in Warsaw in ’42. There are links to him playing some of his own compositions here. And more on the skull bequest here – apparently the funeral directors initially refused, claiming it was illegal. There was a phone call to the Home Office to sort this out (it is illegal now – Human Tissue Act 2004)

David Tennant says:

‘When I heard he had done this,’ he says, ‘I thought, that’s brilliant, that’s what I’m going to do, but apparently you can’t any more, the law’s been changed.’

And a quote from a friend, Michael Menaugh, showing the sort of mixed feeling that close associates must have with this kind of thing:

"Unfortunately, the fact of the skull will not go away for any of us. It is something that ultimately we have all to come to terms with, to reconcile with the Andre we knew and loved. I don’t think Andre realized the effect such a bequest would have, both on his friends and on his own reputation. Andre didn’t always understand that the world of ideas and the world of real people, real reactions and real events just did not coincide.

He had spoken to me of leaving his skull for the RSC to use in Hamlet back in 1966 when he wrote the music for my Oxford Hamlet. In my undergraduate way, I thought the idea wonderfully entertaining. When a great actor may hold the skull of a real man, a real man who ‘set the table on a roar,’ a wonderful man who had his ‘gibes and gambols and songs,’ when that great actor says, ‘A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy,’ might not that electrifying flash of truth (transmitted by the actor) light up the play? Andre would have liked that idea, I think.

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