March 29, 2007, by Peter Kirwan
F.Murray Abraham talk @ The Swan Gallery
Firstly, I want to say that F. Murray Abraham is one of the nicest ‘famous’ people I’ve ever met. In a pre-event chat with my supervisor and an RSC events manager, he still insisted on bringing me into the conversation, asking me my opinions and generally welcoming me into a discussion I wasn’t even sure I was meant to be at. I have to confess to a little bit of a thrill at being chatted to normally by an Oscar-winning actor, but still- lovely man.
F. Murray is in Stratford playing Shylock with Theatre For A New Audience, and last night saw he and Carol Rutter in conversation as a special event for RSC Patrons. This was an immensely interesting experience for me- the Patrons are a small group of RSC supporters who give gifts upwards of £1000, many as much as £10,000, and for whom the RSC puts on special events as a means of thanks. I was there as Carol’s guest, but it was extremely interesting seeing this other side of the RSC, where wine and canapes were passed around and most of the audience (about 25 strong) nodded in agreement when one person mentioned seeing Oliver playing Shylock. However much time I spend studying Shakespearean performance, these were the folks who’ve been coming to this theatre for as much as fifty years, and the cumulative knowledge of performance history in that room was quite intimidating.
The talk itself touched on several interesting points, with F. Murray explaining his personal credo, much discussion of the perceived ownership of Shakespeare by Britons and a lot of praise of the Swan, which he believed was the best venue he’d ever performed in in over 40 years of acting. I won’t bore readers with a full recap of everything he talked about- what seems important to note is the intimacy of this event. Actor, academic and audience all together in a very small room, having a general chat, followed by mingling with wine afterwards. The ability of the RSC to offer this kind of event, when you compare it to other theatre companies, is quite extraordinary. It seems a shame, however, that for most of the audience, the closest they get to speaking to the actors is in a post-show discussion- this strikes me as the kind of event that gets people excited about theatre-going. I’d love to see this kind of thing done on a far wider scale.