"Roy Hart's rendering of King George III in "Eight Songs for a Mad King" by Peter Maxwell Davies was truly majestic. The first night in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 22nd April 1969 was an occasion I shall never forget. Nor would Roy - and how! He had worked very hard on the complex script and score which drew on the full range of his vocal capacities. The learning of this complex music tested his musical abilities to their limits. The Queen Elizabeth Hall was a prestigious place to be performing in and the whole Roy Hart Theatre was very excited on this momentous occasion. I was seated with other members of the Theatre in the auditorium, eagerly awaiting the event.
George III was reputed to have conversed with his pet birds. So there were several gilded bird cages on different levels around the stage. Within each cage was a musician, representing a bird, with whom the King would "converse." Roy looked magnificent in his robes of State, which I knew were exceedingly heavy and difficult to move around in. The fixed stage lights only lit the five musicians, Roy had a follow-spot, a blinding, white follow-spot. The effect of such a bright light singling one out in an otherwise dark space is extremely disturbing. However all the dramatic effects of the staging were impressive that night and the performance really began well.
One sensed the audience appreciating the whole ambiance. Then disaster struck. I was paralysed with helplessness when I saw what was going to happen. Roy was singing, indeed just like a bird, moving between one musician and the next, when, not seeing the chasm in front of him, he fell right into it. Fortunately it was only a drop of one and a half metres and he had fallen on his feet but still he had hit his side on the sharp edge of the rostrum.
He was clearly shaken but like the incredible artist that he was, he kept going without the slightest pause. He included his shock and pain, singing it out in a truly remarkable performance and I do not think most of the audience were aware of any problem. Ironically the final words of the piece are : "Poor fellow, he will die howling, howling, howling." Not as Roy, intended. but no doubt these words took on extra meaning for him in that first performance. It was later established that he had in fact cracked three ribs. When I told him that I had seen it coming and had been unable to do anything about it, he replied typically "Well, why didn't you call out "Watch out, Roy, you're going to fall!" before it was too late!!" For me, this performance had been an excellent demonstration of one of Roy's primary lessons in theatre "Include it, whatever.""
The above text is an extract from the book "A Celebration of Life" by Paul and Clara Silber
Painting by Richard Armstrong
"Back Stage Story"
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