David Tennant to use pianist's skull for Shakespeare's Hamlet
David Tennant is to revive his partnership with a real human skull for a new BBC film version of Shakespeare's Hamlet.
The skull had starred in a stage run of the classic production last year after pianist Andre Tchaikowsky left his remains to the Royal Shakespeare Company in the hope it would be used on stage.
Now the Press Association has learned it is being used in a TV dramatisation of the RSC production to be screened this Christmas.
And the boss of the RSC today admitted that the company secretly used the skull during the play's London run, despite the company saying at the time it was to use a fake.
Tennant held the skull on stage during the famed "Alas, poor Yorick" scene for more than 20 performances at the Courtyard Theatre, in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The outgoing Doctor Who star was lauded for his performance in the production and it has now been filmed for BBC2.
Greg Doran, who directed the stage and TV versions said: "Yes, Andre appears in the film - as in fact he did throughout both the Stratford and the London runs."
He explained: "I didn't allow news that he transferred to London to be leaked out, as we did not want audiences to be unnecessarily distracted by what had then become a bit of a news story.
"Andre Tchaikowsky's skull was a very important part of our production of Hamlet, and despite all the hype about him, he meant a great deal to the company.
"Yorick's skull, and Hamlet's lament to him, is probably one of the most famous icons in Shakespeare, and one most frequently satirised and misquoted. It was through Andre that the company tried to get beyond those cliches, to investigate something deeper.
"You can't hold a real human skull in your hand and not be moved by the realisation that your own skull sits just beneath your skin, that you will be reduced to that state at some stage. That is what Yorick's skull does to Hamlet. It reminds him of the very real presence of Death in Life. Andre's skull was a profound momento mori, which perhaps no prop skull could quite provide."
Composer and concert pianist Tchaikowsky died of cancer in 1982 at the age of 46, donating his body for medical science.
But he also requested that his skull be offered to the RSC to be used on stage.
Although it had been used in rehearsals, actors did not feel comfortable using his head in front of an audience.
Mark Rylance used a cast of Tchaikowsky's skull 20 years ago after initially practising his performance with the real thing. The musician's remains then went back to a box until the skull was used by Tennant.
It had to be given a special licence for use and a stand-in had to be used until permission was given.
Doran said: "When the Human Tissues Authority (HTA) licence had not arrived by the evening of the Dress rehearsal in Stratford last July, and we had to place Andre back in his box, our Theatre Collections Curator, David Howells, allowed us to use another skull he had in the collection, which as it was more than 100 years old, did not come under the jurisdiction of the HTA.
"It was the skull used as Yorick by Edmund Kean in 1813. A piece of theatre history happened that night on the Stratford stage as David Tennant, a 21st century Hamlet, stared into the empty eye sockets that a nineteenth century Hamlet had used. For those of us watching, a little shiver of connection occurred."
Doran, who is also chief associate director of the RSC, added: "I suspect Andre would have been amused by the fact that his cranium became a question on Have I got News for You?, but his bequest to the RSC was deeply sincere.
"I hope other productions may, with the greatest respect for Andre, use the skull as he intended it to be used, for precisely this purpose."