Alas, poor Yorick, I'll play his skull

David Lister@davidlister1
Wednesday 01 March 1995 01:02

Alas, poor Jonathan. An actor whose attempts to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company have been continually spurned has exacted the ultimate revenge. He has drawn up a will leaving his skull to the RSC, so that he can appear in Hamlet for ever.

Jonathan Hartman, who has appeared at the Bristol Old Vic, in films and on television, believes that the part of the deceased jester, Yorick, will now be his in perpetuity.

A two-page codicil to his will states: "Because of my love of the classical theatre, and especially the works of William Shakespeare, I have decided, given the transitory nature of employment so common to my profession, to ensure myself a type of perpetual, albeit posthumous, engagement."

Or, as he told the Independent yesterday, "I may not know what my next job will be, but I want to ensure I know what my last job will be."

Mr Hartman, whose shaved head will give the casting directors at the RSC an idea of the look of their hopeful future star, has also assisted them by sending an X-ray of his skull, labelled "preview of bequest".

The 39-year-old Canadian born Londoner, who has had numerous rejection slips from the RSC, has already carved out a reputation in the business, somewhat akin to that of the perfectionist played by Dustin Hoffman in the film Tootsie. In his last role, playing a zombie for a breakfast-cereal commercial, he was accused by the producers of being too frightening. He recalled with distaste yesterday: "They wanted me to be more chocolatey."

Conceding that he was unlikely to achieve the celebrity of the former RSC actor Ralph Fiennes, who opened in the latest production of Hamlet last night at the Hackney Empire in east London, Mr Hartman revealed that his bequest to the RSC comes with several conditions attached. The skull is to rest between performances in "a box made of ebony and lined with non-synthetic black velvet"; the director of every production must introduce it to the cast using his name; it is to be kept in Hamlet's dressing room in the open box.

Mr Hartman adds: "Perhaps it will inspire him. At any rate, I refuse to be left on the props table."And he insists on a credit in the programme, reading: "The skull of Yorick the Jester is played by the skull of Jonathan Hartman."

The Royal Shakespeare Company's spokeswoman, Zoe Mylchreest, said that Mr Hartman's dream was unlikely to be realised. "We couldn't use a real skull on stage as bone is too brittle and the skulls get some rough handling." She added, woundingly, that Mr Hartman would not even be the first to bequeath a skull. A musician had done the same some years ago. Even after death a rejection slip awaits Mr Hartman.

First Night, page 3

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