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Theatre Music at the RSC

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Part of the Palgrave Studies in British Musical Theatre book series (PSBMT)


This chapter analyses in more detail some of the ways music functions in productions of Shakespeare plays at the RSC. The way music is used is unlikely to be unique to the RSC or to Shakespeare plays; it has developed from nineteenth-century melodrama and been transferred between film, television and theatre by composers and directors working across media. As a starting point, then, since many of the creative teams work across media one of the particular questions this chapter focuses on is the consideration of music’s liveness in a live theatre context—how is it different from film music?

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-95222-2_5
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  1. 1.

    This refers too to Jean-Luc Nancy’s theorising in Listening (2007).

  2. 2.

    I based this discussion on analysis of the AV recording and the score.

  3. 3.

    This discussion is based on my analysis of the AV recording, score and prompt book of the production.

  4. 4.

    The discussions in this section are based on analyses of AV recordings, scores, and prompt books of these productions.

  5. 5.

    The last three plays, The Winter’s Tale, Cymbeline, and The Tempest are clearly different in the amount of music that might be anticipated because they were indoor plays for which a professional band might have been available.

  6. 6.

    The score is available in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust archive as is an AV recording and the prompt book. All of these informed this discussion.

  7. 7.

    Peaslee had previously worked at the RSC with Brook on The Marat-Sade in 1964.

  8. 8.

    This is described in the score as a bevelled piece of wood or ruler on the end of a stout cord, swung around rapidly creating a roaring sound (Peaslee, p. 2).

  9. 9.

    Mendelssohn’s nineteenth century incidental music was very widely used or excerpts performed during productions of this play until at least the 1930s, so its significance was likely to have been recognised. (See Manifold 1956, 156, and Lindley 2004, 111.)

  10. 10.

    Some short clips are available on YouTube that include the sound of the Freekas ( [Accessed 08.10.2015]), but very little of the performance was recorded at the time.


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Taylor, M. (2018). Theatre Music at the RSC. In: Theatre Music and Sound at the RSC. Palgrave Studies in British Musical Theatre. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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