This should not have been the case. It certainly wasn’t what we had planned. The only thing in the diary for these two days was a visit to Stratford to see the RSC’s new production of Love’s Labour’s Lost. You may have read about it. It’s been staged along with Much Ado About Nothing (which the theatre’s powers-that-be have decided is the missing Love’s Labour’s Won, but that is a conversation for another day!) setting one on either side of the First World War. It’s not the first time that Love’s Labours has been located in the Summer of 1914. Ian Drury placed it in an Oxbridge College in that year and closed the show with a shower of bright red poppy petals. It tore me apart. And, to be fair, this production is every bit as good, if not better. As I took part in a well deserved standing ovation, I was in tears at the end. However, brilliant or not, it does not excuse what happens just before the interval!
My trusty companions and I were really excited because it was clear from the rehearsal stills that one of the leading actors was a Bear. Now, just because, when Shakespeare drew up the cast list for this play, he forgot to put the Bear in doesn’t mean that it isn’t perfectly appropriate for Lord Dumain’s faithful friend to accompany him when he signs up to study with his King for the next three years. When I go to stay anywhere for any length of time The Bears always come with me. And who else should Dumain try out his romantic verses on if not someone who has loved him since he was a boy? All perfectly logical and indeed highly proper. This was a performance we were looking forward to. Theatrical Bears finally coming into their own in the country’s leading theatre. Imagine then, our anguish when the thespian Bear playing the role of Bear Dumain, far from being treated with the dignity that his character’s unswerving love and devotion deserved, was dangled by the ear over the parapet of a roof top!
Well, as you will not be surprised to hear, I had to be forcibly restrained from climbing onto the stage and carrying out a daring act of rescue. It is not enough for the Company to insist that the Bear has never been dropped and that there is no intention that he ever will be dropped. All I can say is that he has never been dropped YET and that doesn’t mitigate the trauma this poor ursine must go through every performance wondering if this is the time he has to learn how to bounce!
Of course,cruelty to Bears is nothing new to the RSC. There was the never to be forgotten performance of Richard III in which Anton Lesser kicked the Duke of York’s Teddy Bear! You can tell how shocked the audience were. They had sat through the murders of Clarence and Hastings without so much as a murmur but, when Richard unleashed that unkindest kick of all, the intake of breath that went round the theatre was deafening. You might have thought that following such a reaction as that the Company would have learnt its lesson, but it appears otherwise. The RSPCB will have to be notified.
And so, even as I write to you, The Bears are composing a letter of sympathy to the intrepid performer, assuring him of their support should he wish to take this matter up with Equity. They are doing it, however, through blearily eyes, because, as you will understand, they had very little sleep last night due to bad dreams. And, as much as I assure them that I will never dangle them by the ear over a rooftop parapet, it is too late; they have seen it done. They have witnessed the cruelty that we humans are capable of and their faith in humanity has been shattered. I hope the RSC realise just what they are responsible for.