David Bruce: The Funniest People in Theater: 250 Anecdotes — Sex, Shakespeare

Sex

• During the “Popish terror” of 1681, English citizens were very angry at Catholics. Thinking that actress Nell Gwyn was King Charles II’s Catholic mistress, they surrounded her carriage, but she was able to save herself by pointing out, correctly, “Good people, let me pass. I am the Protestant whore.”

• British actor Pitt Wilkinson once walked into the kitchen of his boarding house, only to discover his landlady on top of the kitchen table having sex with the milkman. She looked at him and calmly said, “I bet you think I’m a right flirt, don’t you?”

• Comte Robert de Montesquiou, a cultured homosexual, fell so deeply in love with actress Sarah Bernhardt that he had sex with her. Big mistake. The only heterosexual sex that he had in his life made him feel ill for an entire day.

Shakespeare

• As a student at Eton, Patrick Macnee was cast as Macduff in a performance of Macbeth. Playing Lady Macbeth was a young boy named Simon Phipps. Unfortunately, the wardrobe woman made a mistake when she designed young Simon’s costume — she used a couple of pieces of metal to give Lady Macbeth a 38-inch bust. Young Simon’s appearance as Lady Macbeth was punctuated with wolf whistles from the all-male audience. Reviews of the play stated that Mr. Macnee didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands, so a friend suggested that he should have grabbed Lady Macbeth.

• H. Chance Newton used to tell a story about a cousin of his who was suddenly called on to play the part of Osric in Hamlet. Being unfamiliar with the part, he put a copy of the play in Osric’s hat, planning to look up his dialogue as needed. Unfortunately, he came across a word he was unfamiliar with and hesitated during a speech. An audience member in the balcony, who had been observing the actor reading the copy of the play hidden in his hat, called out, “SPELL IT, OLD PAL! WE’LL TELL YOU WHAT IT IS!”

• In Macbeth, the character of Lady Macbeth disappears between the banquet scene in the middle of Act 3 and the sleepwalking scene at the beginning of act 5. Because of this long absence from the stage, some very good actresses have declined to play Lady Macbeth. For example, Edith Evans would not play Lady Macbeth because, she explained, the play has “a page missing.”

• Drama critic Sheridan Morley remembers overhearing an interesting conversation at a performance of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. At the end of the play, the stage was strewn with dead characters. As the curtain slowly dropped, hiding the corpses, Mr. Morley heard a woman telling her friend, “The very same thing, dear, happened to Maureen.”

• Sinead Cusack prepares physically for her roles in Shakespeare. Because she feels that Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing is graceful with “fluid” movements, she learned to dance before playing the role. And because she thinks Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew has “jagged” movements, she pumped iron before playing that role.

• After playing King Lear, Sir Henry Irving made his bows and spoke a few words to the audience. A member of the audience shouted, “Why didn’t you speak like that before?” Mystified, Sir Henry turned to actress Ellen Terry, who told him that all during the play she had not been able to understand anything he had said.

• While preparing a wall for his stage production of Romeo and Juliet, realist director Franco Zeffirelli flicked a brush soaked with dirty and watery paint about 18 inches from the bottom of the wall, explaining, “This is where the dogs pee.” He then flicked the brush higher on the wall, adding, “and this is where the men pee.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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