On Monday night, Sir Trevor Nunn gave his inaugural lecture at St Catz as The Cameron Mackintosh Professor of Contemporary Theatre.
The Bernard Sunley Theatre was almost at capacity, with a mix of students and academics there to hear Nunn’ s lecture on Shakespeare, “ The Player Poet.”
He began by saying “I’m not a scholar” though his Cambridge degree and incomparable knowledge of Shakespeare belie him. He went on to crush conspiracy theories that the works of Shakespeare were written by The Earl of Oxford or King Edward VI.
At times it felt like watching a performance, as Nunn whispered his words and trumpeted speeches from some of Shakespeare’s plays, hammering home his love of language and all things Shakespearean. He often referred to “his” Shakespeare. One could tell that he had given much thought to both the plays and to the man himself.
Nunn compared the actors of the play within the play of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to some he has worked with, from the egotist (Bottom) wanting to star in every scene, to the actor/writer/director (Peter Quince) trying to rein in his leading man.
He spoke highly of Sondheim, Coward and Pinter, saying he “was never happier than when he was a part of the rehearsal process.”
As his lecture drew to a close he surmised that life in the theatre “is heavily reliant on prayer and miracle”.
Nunn indulged the audience with a 30 minute question and answer session after his speech. When asked what advice he’d give to students of Shakespeare, he said: “To the students, I urge you, read the plays. Better still, act in them. Best of all, direct them.”
Nunn went on to say “I’m at my happiest in the company of Mr W. S.” No doubt drama enthusiasts at Oxford will be saying the same about being in the company of Mr T.N. College Master, Robert W Ainsworth, thanked Nunn, listing his achievements as artistic director of the RSC and The National Theatre and now Cameron Mackintosh Professor at Oxford. “What a name and what a reputation”.
Nunn follows in the footsteps of Sr Ian McKellan and Sir Patrick Stewart, both of whom he has directed.
With many students clearly interested in the art of theatre, it seems bizarre that Oxford still does not offer an undergraduate degree in the subject.
Perhaps Nunn could make it his goal as this year’s Cameron Mackintosh Professor, not only to “turn on students to Shakespeare”, but to turn on the faculty to the idea of a theatre degree.