An Oxford man has achieved his dying wish to have his skull used in Hamlet — 26 years after he donated it to the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Concert pianist Andre Tchaikowsky’s skull lay unused in a box, because actors shied away from performing with it on stage.
But now it has been revealed Dr Who actor David Tennant held the skull aloft during the famous 'Alas, poor Yorick' scene in a 22-show run at the theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Mr Tchaikowsky, a Holocaust survivor who came to Oxford after the Second World War, made it a condition of his will to give the body part away in the hope it would be used in a theatrical performance.
Despite being used in rehearsals, the skull had never been in a stage performance until Hamlet director Greg Doran retrieved it from its protective box in the RSC’s climate-controlled archives.
The play moves to London next week but it is yet to be decided if Mr Tennant will use the skull there.
Mr Tchaikowsky’s family were delighted his skull had at long last been used on stage.
Mr Tchaikowsky, who lived in Cumnor, regularly attended performances in Stratford before his death from cancer at the age of 46.
David Howells, curator of the archives, said: “It has never been used on stage before.
“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 Andre Tchaikowsky’s.
“That, and the fear of an accident and it being slightly macabre, was why they decided not to use it and used an exact replica.”
The RSC had to apply for special permission to use the skull from the Human Tissue Authority, as it is less than 100 years old.
Mr Doran, who made the decision to use it, 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.
“It was sort of a little shock tactic, though, of course, to some extent that wore off and it was just Andre, in his box.”
In Hamlet, a gravedigger unearths the skull of jester Yorick, prompting Hamlet to deliver the line: “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.”
Dave Ferre, a friend of the Tchaikowsky family, said: “That was Andre’s dream and this is great news. The family will be pleased.”
Richard Faulks, the current manager of the Reeves and Pain Funeral Directors in Oxford, which dealt with Mr Tchaikowsky’s request, was surprised to hear about the intriguing tale.
He said: “Unfortunately the funeral director Michael Duckworth is no longer with us, but I have been back through our records and we still have the forms relating to Mr Tchaikowsky.
“It has been very interesting reading about him – he sounds like quite a personality. We’re delighted to learn that his dying wishes have at last been realised.”