Hamlet in Elsinore

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In 1937 The Old Vic Company took Hamlet home to Elsinore for two performances in January and again in June.

Laurence Olivier played the Danish Prince himself and Vivien Leigh took up the role of Ophelia for the June production.

The Company rehearsed until 3am and gave six performances. These were open air performances and the weather was so bad that an increasingly frail and staunchly sober Lilian Baylis ordered a keg of rum to keep the Company warm. The performances ran despite the poor weather conditions except for one, which was cancelled after the second act. A young John Steinbeck was in the audience and reminded Olivier of the event: ‘It was on the scaffold in the courtyard. I and three thousand others sat on wooden trestles. The rain poured down and your black tights grew blacker with the moisture. Finally, to save your lives, you, a wet and melancholy Dane and your prematurely damp Ophelia, called the non-existent curtain down.’

The final gala performance for the Crown Prince of Denmark had a last minute change of location and was moved to the ballroom of the Martienlyst Hotel.

A week after the Company returned to England, Olivier left his wife Jill Esmond for Vivien Leigh.

Image: Courtesy of Bristol University Theatre Collections