Blog: Memories of The Royal Hunt of the Sun

1964 Royal Hunt of the Sun costume alterations Robert Stephens Jean Skaptason (right) and Vera Martin_edited-1 copy
Robert Stephens takes a break during costume alterations. From our digital archive (original photo: Jean Skaptason, who sits on the right) – click image for larger size

“Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us”

Those of us who, like Oscar Wilde, instinctively know that we attend the theatre for the sheer love of the experience, will realise that it has something to do with the metaphysical scrapbooks locked away in our skulls – memories – the stuff of life. Like a good book, a humdinger of a tune, or a masterful piece of cinema, a Chichester Festival Theatre stage production is up there with the best of those cherished memories.

Nothing illustrates this so well as the transcripts of some of the interviews conducted by the dedicated team of oral history volunteers in the Pass It On project. These transcripts reflect a rich history of story-telling that complements the art of stage performance perfectly. Take, for instance, the reminiscences of Catherine Lambert, wife of the late Jack Lambert, Literary and Arts Editor of the Sunday Times. Catherine evokes the magic of a summer evening trip to the theatre in 1964 to see Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun.

“It was a lovely journey in the car going down from London… I used to look for the line of the South Downs and I knew we were coming near to Chichester.”

It wasn’t just the glorious Sussex landscape that evoked such happy memories. The set-design clearly made an impact.

“The absolutely amazing thing was, at the back of the stage, was this great medallion… At one point, this medallion opened out like a great flower, with petals… Inside, was this fantastic figure painted gold from head to foot, the Sun God… Robert Stephens, actually… everybody gasped.”

Atahualipa by Becky Rae, Heritage Activities Trainee:

Catherine’s memory of Robert Stephens as the Sun God, Atahualipa, has inspired a rather special installation currently in place in the Minerva Theatre. With Amadeus and Black Comedy taking centre stage for the re-opening of the Festival Theatre, Festival 2014 is hosting three celebratory weekends offering rehearsed readings, talks and panel discussions of and about Shaffer’s work. Last Sunday saw The Royal Hunt of the Sun brought to life once more so it was the perfect opportunity for us to use our archive creatively.

Denise Watson has fully recreated Atahualipa’s costume in life-size form – click image for larger size

Artist Denise Watson was given a photograph of Robert Stephenson sitting for a costume fitting for The Royal Hunt of the Sun (see above) and has recreated his impressive costume out of paper, including Chichester Festival Theatre programmes that have been discarded during our archiving process (don’t worry, they were duplicates!). You can also listen to some of Catherine’s oral history interview, using the headphone unit as part of the installation.

The installation will be held in the Minerva for the duration of our Shaffer Celebration, which runs until 2 August. Do you have any memories of The Royal Hunt of the Sun? Let us know at [email protected].