The Royal Shakespeare Theatre is located on the banks of the River Avon. The famous pub “The Dirty Duck” (real name “The Black Swan”) is two minutes walk from the stage door. After the show, the actors and the adience mix democratically for a late-night drink. As this is England (where “ye olde worlde” customs rule), the last orders for alcohol to be served is 11 pm. The play finishes ten minutes before time is called and consequently there is a desperate crush of theatre-goers at the bar.
Less democratically, flashing your RSC staff card discreetly at the bar staff gets you served quicker. Gavin, who is the Assistant Director, and the Player King are standing by the bar: two untouched pints of beer in front of them. They are deep in conversation trying to unravel a problem in the “dumb-show”. Here the Player King mimes the murder of Hamlet’s father. The production prides itself on keeping the action taut - exits and entrances overlap as the audience is driven towards the Play’s bloody conclusion. However the silent minutes of the mime slow this tempo down. The duo contemplate approaches to keep the action flowing. Their solution: introduce humour, but how?
Inspiration strikes Gavin. He places his finger into his mouth, puffs out his cheek and then flicks out his finger with an audible “POP”. The Player King eyes him suspiciously. “Do this when you remove the cork from the bottle of poison. It’ll be bound to get a laugh.”
The Player King is unsure that the audience will be able to hear the noise in the vast auditorium. The couple start to experiment, trying to get the loudest “POP” possible. Each in turn places a finger into the mouth and flicks it out with varying degrees of sound.Across the bar, a Japanese tourist stands watching unsure and transfixed at what seems to be a curious mating ritual. In a pub a long way from Japan, it is a strange case of “ye olde worlde” behaviour to tell to the folks back home about.