Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Here we go steadily nuts in May

...Or perhaps it was April.

Last Saturday's Times announced a revival of the National Theatre‘s original(-ish production of Tom Stoppard's Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. At least, I assume it's a revival; the 50th anniversary can't have escaped the notice of the publicity department. I say -ish because the first production of the play under this title took place on the Edinburgh Fringe in the Summer of 1966

The following Spring the play  opened at the Old Vic (because at the time there was no bricks and mortar [or rather slabs and mastic, I suppose] home for the National Theatre). For a few weeks before the opening, the doors were open for Press Previews, at reduced prices – reduced enough for a school trip.

The school minibus accommodated about fifteen passengers. Priority bookings went to the VIth form, and any seats left were offered to the years below. At the time I was in the fourth year (which, in new money, is Year 10), so it was a rare treat for the likes of us to be given the chance. But in the March or early April of 1967 I had such a chance. Some of us were self-assured enough to be amused by the bar-room talk at the interval, with pseuds ....
<explanatory_note type="suspected neologism">
(some of us read Private Eye, home of the Pseuds Corner column).

Until writing this I assumed that the Eye had created the word. But it  turns out that it has been around since the turn of the 18th century, peaking in 1930. Then there was a lesser peak in 1953, 8 years before Private Eye was founded. The second of these mini-peaks, which the Eye might claim some credit for, was in 1967 – the year of my visit. So the word was popular at the time;  just not as popular as I once supposed (or for the reasons I imagined):
Frequency graph from this Collins site
(though the graph is generated from scratch when your browser loads the page,
so you may want to have a cup of tea while you wait)

</explanatory_note>
... who, having no reviews to bone up on, didn't know what to think). Some of us, though. were too shocked at the prices (4/6 for a bottle of Double Diamond! [bought for us by the older boys while Mr Crawford's back was turned]).

Another visit, one that I didn't go on, was to see The Royal Hunt of the Sun – also at the Old Vic. But I did witness its fruits, as it became the school play (once in my time, but with many revivals since*).

When, a few years later, I started to learn Spanish, I smugly laughed at the pronunciation of Pizarro with a [ts]. Though on reflection my school play's pronunciation no doubt mimicked that of the National Theatre; and they, very probably, had a dialogue coach who had done their homework.

In my loft there may well be a moldering copy of  "The De-voicing of Mediaeval Sibilants", mentioned in a similarly Latin-American context here. A written z, which had in Old Castilian been pronounced [dz], came to be pronounced [ts]. I don't know how long this process took, or when the subsequent progression to [Ѳ] heard in some parts of mainland Spain (and on the lips of learners – of whom, at the time of the aforementioned smugness, I was one) started. But with my usual magnanimity I'm prepared to give that National Theatre dialogue coach the benefit of the doubt; besides, as Pizarro's men were adventurers, it's reasonable to imagine that they were early-adopters of the linguistic trend.

Thassall – I must try to catch the last of this glorious weather.


b

* Many years later, a contemporary of mine (and the other half – though much the more vocal half – of The Simon and Garfunkel of North Pinner), who had taken the leading part of Pizarro in 1969, visited the old school unexpectedly and unannounced. One of the directors of the play was still there. And when Albert interrupted his class he said to the boys "This is the original Pizarro".

This is a sample of the duo's work – not precisely contemporary, but from  1969.

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