When André Tchaíkowsky died of cancer in 1982 aged 46 he donated his body for medical science. But he added the proviso that his skull “shall be offered by the institution receiving my body to the Royal Shakespeare Company for use in theatrical performance.” Since then it has only been used in rehearsals because no actor felt comfortable enough using it on stage in front of an audience.
David Howells, curator of the RSC’s archives, said: “In 1989 the actor Mark Rylance rehearsed with it for quite a while but he couldn’t get past the fact it wasn’t Yorick’s, it was André Tchaíkowsky’s.”
Now, unbeknown to the paying public, Dr Who actor Tennant has used the skull in 22 performances of Hamlet in Stratford-upon-Avon. Director Greg Doran explained why he didn’t want anyone to know. He said: “I thought it would topple the play and it would be all about David acting with a real skull.” Polish-born Tchaíkowsky was smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto in 1942 to the city of Lodz, before settling in Paris and later England. He lived in Oxford for a time and loved going to the theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The skull will now travel with the Hamlet production to the Novello Theatre in London.