Shakespeare on the Eyre Peninsula
18 Nov 2020
Martin and Susie Dickson have been on the Bell Shakespeare scene since 1990. As close friends of the company and proud supporters of our work, we knew Martin’s insights into our history and his own connection to Shakespeare would make for an interesting read.
1. In One Man In His Time, John Bell reflects on a lifelong connection to William Shakespeare. You too have a long love of Shakespeare, what was it that first inspired your love of his work?
It was my mother who introduced me to Shakespeare on stage. In those days we lived in a small town twenty-six miles from the centre of London and my mother, a keen Shakespearian, used to take my brother and me to the Aldwych Theatre to see the Royal Shakespeare Company in action. I cannot now recall everything we saw but one particular production sticks in the mind: it was Romeo and Juliet, and the Juliet was Judi Dench. It is easy to say with hindsight, of course, but even at the tender age of twelve I knew somehow that the lady was going places.
In the same year (1960) I started at boarding-school in the Midlands and had my first experience of Shakespeare on the page. The play was Richard II and was that year’s required text for English at ‘O’ level (the equivalent of the Australian Intermediate Certificate in those days). I loved it. It started me reading and re-reading the works of Shakespeare, an activity which has given me boundless pleasure, and which continues happily today.
As good luck had it, my school was situated only a cough and spit from Stratford-upon-Avon, and we used to get taken to some of the performances at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. The stand-out was King Lear with Paul Schofield in the title role. I can still do a reasonable impression of his gravel voice and curious, but highly effective, chopping up of the verse. Later, at Cambridge, where I was a very small player on the theatrical scene, I used to take the train to London with like-minded friends to catch up with what the RSC were doing at the Aldwych.
2. You have been supporters of the Company since our very beginning, back in 1990. How did you come to support Bell Shakespeare?
With this fortunate background, it will come as no surprise that when, in 1990, an Australian company devoted to the works of Shakespeare was mooted, I should be eager to get involved somehow. By this stage I was an Australian citizen and married to Susie, who immediately shared my enthusiasm for what was to become the Bell Shakespeare Company.
3. Can you share one of your favourite early memories of Bell Shakespeare?
Susie and I are now in our seventies, and it is difficult to remember all the finer nuances of three decades-worth of the company’s productions. No one who was present , will easily forget BSC’s opening salvo with Hamlet in a circus tent in Centennial Park. The wind wuthered, the canvas flapped, the words were often inaudible, the seats had been designed by some extra-terrestrial unfamiliar with the contours of the human body, but it was impossible not to feel the enthusiasm and dedication emanating from the stage. Hundreds of us in that audience became instant devotees of the company and have remained so for thirty years.
4. What has been your favourite Bell Shakespeare production and why?
In the course of those three decades we have been privileged to witness many fine performances, not the least those of the eponymous founder of the company. One remembers with delight and some awe John’s Shylock, Richard III, Coriolanus and King Lear, among many others. Some of our happiest memories have been of felicitous moments within the plays.
Who can forget Patrick Dickson as a shabbily dressed Polonius fingering his tatty cardigan while advising his son: ‘Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy / But not expressed in fancy; rich not gaudy / For the apparel oft proclaims the man…’. Or Sean O’Shea in Act V Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice, the loving lines so beautifully delivered it made one want to cry. ‘The moon shines bright; in such a night as this…’. Or Anna Volska, whose Abbess in The Comedy of Errors nearly stole the show. A paltry few examples, I’m afraid, but they stood out. Directorial highlights have been a King Lear in which John had to kick balloons about (Barrie Kosky, I think), and a Macbeth where the witches appeared in spacesuits (can’t remember the director, and probably just as well).
I don’t want to go without mentioning two excellent recent revivals which impressed us both: Richard III and Hamlet. The title roles in each were given to female actors, a practice I have sometimes found disconcerting. (I know, I know, Sarah Bernhardt played Hamlet). In the event, both ladies were triumphant, ably assisted by superb supporting casts.
In 1996, Bell Shakespeare was confident enough to branch out from Shakespeare and add works by other playwrights to its repertoire, starting with Storm Boy. Susie and I have particularly enjoyed the three comedies by Molière – a stroke of genius, in our opinion.
5. Why do you continue to support Bell Shakespeare?
Virginia Henderson, former Executive Chairman of Bell Shakespeare, used to refer to the company’s early days as The Long March. Well, The Long March has come a long way. Susie and I have watched with admiration and excitement and will continue to support BSC in any way we can.
If you would like to share your story about what moves you to support Bell Shakespeare, we would love to hear from you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you enjoyed hearing about Martin’s reflections on Shakespeare, don’t forget to book your tickets to our upcoming production of One Man In His Time where John Bell shares his humour, wit and a lifetime of experience walking beside one of the greatest writers to have ever lived.