That Time That Vincent Price Was Strangely Heckled...


Forty years ago, I was at university studying literature. As it happened, that year the Big S as the focus of attention - Shakespeare. I was fortunate or unfortunate enough, depending on how you look at it, to be part of a tutorial group composed of geniuses, all of them women apart from the elderly Dutch professor, all of them with enough intellectual power to outshine the cyclotron at CERN, and probably faster in their thinking than that device. I sat at the back all year, introverted and silent, getting ‘B’ grades because I was in a class of ‘A Plus’ students - in any other class, the gentle and wise tutor assured me privately, I would be doing better.

But this isn’t about my adolescent misgivings about life. It’s about something rather spooky that occurred that year.

It so happened that one of our assignments was to learn verbatim a piece of Shakespeare for an examination. It was the famous opening speech from Richard III:

Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this sun of York;

And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house

In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;

Our bruiséd arms hung up for monuments;

Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,

Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.

Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front;

And now, instead of mounting barbed steeds

To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,

He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber

To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.

I had toiled away at this for days, but had taken some time off to go with a couple of friends to see Vincent Price perform live in a local theatre, doing a one-man Oscar Wilde show. As you can probably tell, I was a big fan of literature and theatre (and still am).

Anyway, the point of the story, insofar as it has a point which can be grasped, was that in that audience of about five hundred, in a small theatre in downtown Adelaide, South Australia, I was probably the only person who had recently memorised the opening speech from Richard III - my friends were not literature students and it was unlikely that any member of the public would have been practising that particular speech for any reason.

Or so one might have thought.

As we took our seats, I noted that a lady sat next to me, a complete stranger. She was middle-aged, bespectacled, and wore, rather disconcertingly, a bandage around her forehead, upon which a large bloodstain was visible. I could not inspect more closely without appearing rude, but the stain was marked.

As the lights went down, the curtain came up and the great man emerged in character as Wilde. Huge applause.

But as the curtain had gone up, so had the lady next to me.

And as Price opened his mouth to begin, so the lady began to speak, full-voiced, into the dark auditorium:

Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this sun of York;

And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house

In the deep bosom of the ocean buried…

‘Ssssshhhh!’ went up a chorus of whispers.

The lady sat down. Price, the practised professional, carried on as though nothing unusual had happened. Having held my breath for a minute, I breathed again.

Then, a moment later, up she got again:

Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;

Our bruiséd arms hung up for monuments;

Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,

Our dreadful marches to delightful measures…

Protests from behind. Price paused, but then carried on. I don’t suppose he had ever had heckling quite like this. The lady sat down, but got up and did the same thing a minute later, same speech. At that point, someone from the theatre management appeared and removed the offender from the theatre, enabling the rest of us to enjoy the show.

But I don’t recollect much of the show, to be honest. All I could think of was the speech. Why that speech? And why was she sitting next to me, perhaps the only person in the whole crowd who had also memorised that exact speech earlier that day?

And what was the blood stain all about?

I never found out.

The point of the story? Truth is stranger than fiction, perhaps. Serendipity in the extreme had occurred, and bizarrely so. Offered as a piece of fiction, such a tale might stretch one’s sense of belief; offered as fact, as it is, I wonder what it is that is stretched.

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Hello, my name is Grant Hudson and what you will see on these pages is a reflection of who I am, my interests, and what I can do for you. 

 

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