Frank Benson as Richard II
Edward Warburton as the Archbishop of Canterbury
"The 1913 US tour, although innovative and adventurous, was in truth both a critical and a financial flop, losing over one thousand pounds. A hundred years later, having finally brought both a Show and a Shakespeare to New York, it's good to know that the company's fortunes have been reversed."
By Gregory Doran:
By the time the Stratford actors reached home the Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been assassinated in Sarajevo. The Stratford summer season opened on 2 August, and the Great War broke out two days later, on 4 August.
Laurence Irving appears in the Benson windows, in Stratford, as Iago. Benson himself is resplendent as Richard II, his greatest role. Edward Warburton, the actor who tried to throw Darby Foster over the balcony, appears as the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The memorial window on the landing commemorates ten of Benson's actors who died in the Great War. They include young Frank Matthews, who played small parts like Balthasar in Romeo and Juliet, Curio in Twelfth Night and Sugarsop in The Taming of the Shrew. Frank and Constance's own son, Eric also died in the war. He appears as the figure of St George above the Juliet Balcony on the landing.
I am about to leave the current companies of actors in the States and return to Stratford-upon-Avon, where both productions, of Matilda and Julius Caesar started out. As You Like It, and Tanika Gupta's play The Empress are in preview there, and I have not seen them yet, and we are opening a huge new costume exhibition, called In Stitches. And it is Shakespeare's birthday coming up, and we have the annual celebration of flag-unfurling, cake-cutting, and parading around. It's both slightly absurd and rather moving, and terribly English, and it's my first birthday as the RSC's Artistic Director.
As I pack up, I'm left with a thought: the 1913 US tour, although innovative and adventurous, was in truth both a critical and a financial flop, losing over one thousand pounds. A hundred years later, having finally brought both a Show and a Shakespeare to New York, it's good to know that the company's fortunes have been reversed.
If you would like to read more about Frank Benson, his own autobiography, although long out of print, is called My Memoirs, or there is John Trewin's book Benson and the Bensonians, or Sally Beauman's history of the Shakespeare companies at Stratford since 1879, both sadly too out of print, but available via secondhand bookshops and online.