Jim Cellan Jones reflects on his own Much Ado About Nothing

Our patron, Jim Cellan Jones directed Much Ado About Nothing in 1973, this excerpt tells about his experience and is reproduced from his autobiography, Forsyte and Hindsight.

In 1973 I was asked by the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh to do their ninetieth birthday production. It was to be Much Ado About Nothing which Ellen Terry had played there in 1883. It was very short notice. I had less than three weeks to get the whole thing together before starting rehearsal. Of course, I was second, or possibly third choice, the director having walked out I was shown the model of a set and having looked at it said, ‘There is no way I can direct that play using this set’.

The designer said ‘Right, I’m leaving,’ and departed carrying the model with him Fortunately there was a brilliant designer called Geoffrey Scott, who was about to be employed by the National Theatre but agreed to put it off to design our set. He and I worked out a very successful plan that afternoon, including all the necessary Shakespearian bits; a bridge for a balcony and three doors.

I then had to go into the Albery Theatre in London, to use it as a basis for auditions. If you offer someone a part in a provincial rep in a few months’ time they refuse, thinking they might pick up a film. It’s quite different saying, ‘How would you like to play this part starting next week?’ I had to ask Clive Perry, the theatre’s director, if I could have full control of the money; it would have taken too long to keep referring decisions back to Edinburgh. He very sweetly agreed, and I kept strictly within budget.

We got a very good cast together with Bill Fraser as Dogberry, a fiendishly difficult part. It helps enormously if the character wears a recognisable uniform and, because I was setting it in 1919, we were able to dress him like a copper. I got Keith Baxter and Zena Walker to play Benedict and Beatrice. David Rintoul played Claudio and Leonato was played by Fulton Mackay.

Many of the other parts were played by Scottish actors who were encouraged to use their accents. The lady in waiting, Margaret, was played by Jan Wilson whose parents owned a private hotel in Royal Circus in the New Town. We all stayed there and they were wonderfully hospitable and cheap because none of us was earning very much. Every now and then, they got overcrowded, they would put up a bed for you in the corridor and charge you even less. It was a very happy company and John Westbrook who played Jon Pedro was a sort of avuncular figure who led the company. David Collings played Don John (whom I was afterwards to work with several times).

The second last line of the play is when a messenger comes on and says:

‘My lord, your brother John is ta’en in flight and brought with armed men to Messina’.

I persuaded the actor who played the messenger to lend me his costume and I took his part on the last night. As I burst through the door the whole cast corpsed and just managed to recover themselves in time to start the eightsome reel with which we ended the play.

We used to have an old age pensioners’ matinee which cost them ten pence. Being a glutton for punishment, I would hang around waiting for the audience to come out. Two old ladies came out of the auditorium moaning a lot about the production. I said to them,
‘Didn’t you like it?’
‘No, I thought it was a load of old rubbish,’ said one of them.
‘Well here’s your money back,’ I said and offered them 10p.
‘Thank you very much,’ they said, and took it.

 Thank you to Ann CookFRSA for taking the photograph of Jim Cellan Jones.

 

Jim Cellan Jones’ reflects on his own Much Ado About Nothing

Our patron, Jim Cellan Jones directed Much Ado About Nothing in 1973, this excerpt tells about his experience and is reproduced from his autobiography, Forsyte and Hindsight.

In 1973 I was asked by the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh to do their ninetieth birthday production. It was to be Much Ado About Nothing which Ellen Terry had played there in 1883. It was very short notice. I had less than three weeks to get the whole thing together before starting rehearsal. Of course, I was second, or possibly third choice, the director having walked out I was shown the model of a set and having looked at it said, ‘There is no way I can direct that play using this set’.

The designer said ‘Right, I’m leaving,’ and departed carrying the model with him Fortunately there was a brilliant designer called Geoffrey Scott, who was about to be employed by the National Theatre but agreed to put it off to design our set. He and I worked out a very successful plan that afternoon, including all the necessary Shakespearian bits; a bridge for a balcony and three doors.

I then had to go into the Albery Theatre in London, to use it as a basis for auditions. If you offer someone a part in a provincial rep in a few months’ time they refuse, thinking they might pick up a film. It’s quite different saying, ‘How would you like to play this part starting next week?’ I had to ask Clive Perry, the theatre’s director, if I could have full control of the money; it would have taken too long to keep referring decisions back to Edinburgh. He very sweetly agreed, and I kept strictly within budget.

We got a very good cast together with Bill Fraser as Dogberry, a fiendishly difficult part. It helps enormously if the character wears a recognisable uniform and, because I was setting it in 1919, we were able to dress him like a copper. I got Keith Baxter and Zena Walker to play Benedict and Beatrice. David Rintoul played Claudio and Leonato was played by Fulton Mackay.

Many of the other parts were played by Scottish actors who were encouraged to use their accents. The lady in waiting, Margaret, was played by Jan Wilson whose parents owned a private hotel in Royal Circus in the New Town. We all stayed there and they were wonderfully hospitable and cheap because none of us was earning very much. Every now and then, they got overcrowded, they would put up a bed for you in the corridor and charge you even less. It was a very happy company and John Westbrook who played Jon Pedro was a sort of avuncular figure who led the company. David Collings played Don John (whom I was afterwards to work with several times).

The second last line of the play is when a messenger comes on and says:

‘My lord, your brother John is ta’en in flight and brought with armed men to Messina’.

I persuaded the actor who played the messenger to lend me his costume and I took his part on the last night. As I burst through the door the whole cast corpsed and just managed to recover themselves in time to start the eightsome reel with which we ended the play.

We used to have an old age pensioners’ matinee which cost them ten pence. Being a glutton for punishment, I would hang around waiting for the audience to come out. Two old ladies came out of the auditorium moaning a lot about the production. I said to them,
‘Didn’t you like it?’
‘No, I thought it was a load of old rubbish,’ said one of them.
‘Well here’s your money back,’ I said and offered them 10p.
‘Thank you very much,’ they said, and took it.

 Thank you to Ann CookFRPS for taking the photograph of Jim Cellan Jones.