In the spring of 1977, a bunch of Oxford undergraduates made their way to Richmond in North Yorkshire, bringing a week of theatrical mayhem to a medieval market town.
With a temerity only excusable in the very young (or the very talented) they took a university production to the Georgian Theatre Royal, one of Britain’s oldest theaters, where they followed a poetry recital given by Judi Dench and Michael Williams to present two one-act plays: Sophocles’ Oedipus and Sheridan’s The Critic.
This apparently bizarre pairing was inspired in part by the hugely successful double-bill mounted in the 1940s at the Old Vic and subsquently on Broadway, where Olivier himself took the leading roles of Oedipus and Mr Puff in the two plays – or Oedipuff, as they became jointly to be known.
The undergraduate troupe that attempted to emulate some smidgin of this success were not apparently constrained by lack of ambition, self-consciousness or budgetary concerns (although history does not relate how the production was funded.) The season’s productions had already included Charley’s Aunt (set in the desert, complete with artificial pine trees imported from Pinewood,) The Importance of Being Earnest (with Lady Bracknell played in full drag,) The Crucible, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Participants in this audacious enterprise have long gone their separate ways. A couple remained actors (Philip Denyer and I), and others among our number include at least two future QCs, an archbishop, and a university vice-chancellor. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the element of performance remains a common thread.
The stimulus for this apparently casual anecdote is the news that Richmond’s Georgian Theatre is now at risk of closure, as levels of funding have dropped and ticket sales and bar profits are insufficient to cover costs on their own.
An appeal is to be launched on May 1st to save this Grade 1 listed building, whose interior has not been remodeled since it opened in 1788. Let’s get the word out to help rescue this wonderful piece of British theatrical heritage.