‘A concert pianist’s dying wish to appear on stage in Hamlet has been realised 26 years after his death.
André Tchaikowsky, a Polish Jew who escaped the Holocaust and settled in Britain, bequeathed his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company to be used as a macabre prop.
From soon after his death in 1982 from cancer at the age of 46, Tchaikowsky’s final bequest has been kept in a box in a costume store. The relic finally emerged to take its place centre stage when David Tennant took on the role of Hamlet in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Tchaikowsky starred in 22 performances of the “Alas, poor Yorick” scene in which Hamlet holds aloft the skull of the court jester unearthed by a gravedigger.
The decision to use the skull was kept secret from the audience and many in the production crew for fear of distracting from Tennant’s performance…
…When the unmarried musician made his will, it stated that he wanted his organs to be donated to science “. . . with the exception of my skull, which shall be offered by the institution receiving my body to the Royal Shakespeare Company for use in theatrical performance”.
David Howells, curator of the RSC’s archives, confirmed that this was the skull’s first public outing. “In 1989 Mark Rylance rehearsed with it for quite a while, but he couldn’t get past the fact it wasn’t Yorick’s, it was Tchaikowsky’s,” he said. Other actors also felt uneasy about using it.
The RSC had to obtain a licence from the Human Tissue Authority to use the skull because it is less than 100 years old.’