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Richard III

Theatre Trailer by Preview Play

Siren Theatre Co and MAKEbeLIVE productions present….. RICHARD III by William Shakespeare.

Walking down towards us, his captive audience, both Richard, Duke of Gloucester and Thomas Campbell, one and the same person, comes to a halt in a spotlight, contemplates us and then begins “Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun of York…” We listen and watch with anticipatory excitement and foreknowledge (most of us, of this play, this night) and accept the invitation to watch a most sensational story of treachery, and evil personified, unravel for our delight. We are invited to join, complicity, in the roller coaster machinations of a great villains’ deeds, witnessing and certainly savouring the daring and cunning. It can be a vicarious thrill.

“King Richard III, the only English ruler since the Norman Conquest to have been killed in battle, is the only one to have become a legend. That legend, first due to Sir Thomas More and then to Shakespeare, is of the lame and twisted hunchback whose misshapen body reflects the evil heart within it. To satisfy his own all-consuming ambition, he murders the royal saint King Henry VI and the latter’s son Edward Prince of Wales, seduces Edward’s Lady Anne while her husband’s body is still warm, engineers the death of his own brother Clarence and finally disposes of his two child nephews – one of them the rightful King of England – in the Tower of London. He quite probably poisons his wife, and would most certainly have married his niece had he not been persuaded that public opinion would never stand for it.” The ends invariably justified means, to capture and to ensure a ruler’s authority, “no crime was too unspeakable, no treachery too abhorrent.” Machiavelli’s Prince speaks and acts.

It is Richard’s performance that dazzles us. “The element of this serious moral farce, even in a play that must be called a tragedy, is never far from the surface. Without the wit and humour that ironically plays round Richard and the wit and self-mockery he himself exhibits, he would merely be a monster, and no more interesting than any other. We cannot avoid being interested, however, in the complexity of mind, the energy and self-awareness evidenced by his self-mockery, particularly when our point of view at the beginning of the play is inevitably controlled by the attitude he, as a sort of impresario, suggests. At the end we cannot avoid feeling a sense of loss at the death and despair of someone so much more remarkable and self-aware than any other character……… Richard (sees) through the pretence and the pretensions of the people among whom (he moves), and reveals that high words often conceal low motives. For this to be effective as a stage device, of course, some complicity with the audience in point of view has to be assumed; and that complicity is established by the soliloquy that opens Richard III.” It is in the sprezzatura, the easy, confident grace, in the élan in his villainy and a delighted mastery of the roles he chooses to play that we surrender to. He is the hero of his own play to himself: “I am myself alone.” He comes forward and begins, “Now is the winter of our discontent….” And quickly, curiously and wickedly delightfully we follow and join him……

Kate Gaul has seen what others have, but then has gone the extra distance, taken a gamble and cast a young actor of remarkable gifts and promise, Thomas Campbell, and given him rein to pursue the delicious and fiendish opportunity of exploring the role of Richard III. He does so admirably and wholeheartedly. Her act of faith is not undermined. This is not to say that in another few years, given that he is invited to actively continue to develop his craft and art form, when he re-creates this role, that it would be even more impressive with maturing skills and that it will still be more interesting to see. This is a powerfully interesting young actor. He has wit, intelligence, a divine sense of theatricality, a wickedness of daring that is keenly necessary to arrest an audience from the doldrums of the relative perfunctory labouring of others, and makes for unexpected choices which are treasures to hold onto. Mr Campbell has a growing command of his vocal instrument with a glare of precision and a delighted and growing accuracy about the vocabulary of his texts and a gorgeous relish of it: every syllable, word, phrase and sentence of them. The applied concentration is awesome in the delivery of the verse of Richard, Duke of Gloucester and is joyously balanced with a detailed ability to listen actively to the offers of his fellow actors/characters and express it as a gift to the attentive audience to propel the narrative. All this is not to say that this is a flawless performance. Physically, there are still things to harness, to develop, but it is a real, sensationally live one. Sparks of eloquence crackle from him. I had a glimpse of a Charles Laughton re-incarnation: Intuitive, incisive, fearlessly insightful and cruel. But alive in the joyful act of creating. Transcending himself to be someone else, vividly.

The director Kate Gaul has gathered six actors, Thomas Campbell, Holly Austin, Robert Jago, Catherine Terracini, Anthony Weir and Genevieve Mooy and with a cleverly edited script thrown them into a playground of invention where extraordinary possibilities of expressive storytelling was permitted to be explored and enjoyed. All of these actors, create for the audience, using minimal props, furniture, but with intricately designed functional and descriptive costume (Kate Shanahan) each playing multiple roles, in the time honoured footsteps of the Shared Experience company (UK) a breathless succession of characters without confusion and with thrilling impetus. The handling of the Elizabethan text (1592-early Shakespeare) is very good indeed, by all of the performers. It is as clear as a bell. All of these actors are wondrously committed to their tasks, each others tasks and the empathetic interaction of them, with a need to infect the audience both with that commitment and knowledge of the story. A team of actors being wrought to combine their crafts for our and Shakespeare’s delectation. An embryonic ensemble. How exciting if they could build on what they have found and what they are brewing.

There is no set. There is a large empty space surrounded by a collection of wooden chairs and storage points for prop and costume changes. The actors in the two hours of non stop traffic never leave the stage. The moody and almost balletic (side towers) lighting by Dave Bergman is impressive. (Although, once again I complain that sometimes the director and designer have erred on atmosphere and beautiful pictures rather than LIGHTING the actors faces so that we can read accurately without strain, the story the actors are detailing for us! Is it that the director and designer, from having nurtured the performance from day one of rehearsal forget that the audience is seeing it all for only the first time and are learning to register, what they know from familiarity and so go blithely into underlit or shadowed glooms? I merely ask for information.) The composition and sound design of Daryl Wallis is always accurately present to either underline or propel the story and atmosphere of the narrative. Like all good soundscapes only impinging when it should be. Going about its contributions subtly when need be.

This is a telling of The Tragedy of Richard III that is straight forward. It seems to be targeted at the first time audience specifically. It is almost unadorned with interpretative or relevancy agenda. This I appreciate and yet I longed for a point of view that was more engaging. I was enhanced by the clarity, the theatrical solutions of the production by Ms Gaul, the thrill and joy of the performances, the sheer brilliance of the dramatist and poet that is a young expanding Shakespeare…. And yet…. Yet/MMMM?

There is one other performance in this company that I should like to talk about. That is the performance of Genevieve Mooy. Ms Mooy plays three roles: Queen Margaret, Catesby, Duchess of York. [I spoke to her briefly after the performance and expressed my appreciation of her work. She replied, “Why not? Kate invited us to play and I loved it. I just cut lose and played. It is rare to have that gift to play in such rich material.” (Something like that. The quote is my impression not necessarily verbatim.)] Ms Mooy’s performance as mad Queen Margaret is bravura acting that is rarely engaged in by Australian actors. A fierce and brilliant physical gift is unleashed alongside a vocal relish and emotional passion that relishes the opportunity that Shakespeare has given her. Act One Scene Three, Margaret crazed with grief and rage, blasts Richard and curses him with prophetic retribution on the House of York. The vitriolic power of it is breathtaking and it is something that all of us would love to have said in the heat of temper: “Stay, dog, for thou shalt hear me. / If heaven have any grievous plague in store / Exceeding those that I can wish upon thee, / O let them keep it till thy sins be ripe / And then hurl down their indignations / On thee, the troubler of the poor world’s peace!? The worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul! / Thy friends suspect for traitors while thou liv’st, / And take deep traitors for thy dearest friends! / No sleep close up that deadly eye of thine, / unless it be while some tormenting dream / Affrights thee with a hell of ugly devils! / Thou elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog! / Thou that wast sealed in thy nativity / The slave of nature and the son of hell! / Thou slander of thy heavy mother’s womb! / Thou loathed issue of thy father’s loins! / thou rag of horror!..” With all the fine expertise of a relishing craftsman, Ms Mooy takes every opportunity in the role and speeches to the hilt. A round of applause almost ensued, but Richard’s wicked tricky reply cut it out for us and her. Later the physicalisation and satiric edge of Ms Mooy’s impersonation of William Catesby in this production is wicked, witty provocation of our belief. It’s daring is worth the embracement of it. I did… The Duchess of York is less impressive but still stockpiled with insight and aplomb.

It is very interesting watching the acting styles of Ms Mooy alongside that of a relatively younger performer like Mr Campbell. The histrionic, flamboyant and yet carefully modulated choices of Ms Mooy represent a school of acting that the younger actor should observe. It is an inheritance from the school of Olivier and the other English greats, no less than Maggie Smith or Judi Dench at their most galvanised and captured on film for us to cherish. Then, too, Ms Mooy could take on some of the intellectual coolness and pensive restraint of the supercharged Mr Campbell. There is a blend of “contemporary” thoughtful hesitation mixed with the temptation to bravura balanced by a brain engaged with the language and argument and not swamped with emotional out pouring. Thinking, not allowing the natural emotional response to dominate. In every moment of Mr Campbell’s activity this is so. (This is where Ms Mooy’s Duchess of York slightly errs – the emotional content muddies the text and thoughts.) This maybe from the school of Daniel Day Lewis – a great of the contemporary cinema who pushes the boundaries of expected cinema acting into daring and expansion of incredible credibility. Who dares not to believe him? Who is not overwhelmed by his offerings? Only dullards are not.

It is one of the joys of watching the contemporary actors at work. When the living history of acting styles stand side by side and one can see the legitimate passing of the baton. Even more thrilling when each generation learns from the other. This is where the combustion of live performance enhances the theatre going experience.

So, although for those of us who are very familiar with the play of Richard III, the performance may lack a point of view that is challenging, the other intentions of Ms Gaul and her fellow artist in attempting to find a thrilling contemporary method to deliver this material is very, very enjoyable. There is no ersatz storytelling here.

Playing now until May 16 at CarriageWorks, Bay 20. Book online or call 1300 732 038.

5 replies to “Richard III”

  1. The thing that infuriates me most about this blog is that its author regularly quotes large sections of secondary material – but from where? Who are you quoting? To quote without attribution is not acceptable, in any field.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    I am sorry to infuriate you. (Fury: “inspired frenzy”!! ) I am sorry that the practice is unacceptable. Thank you for reading my blog and risking ill health. At least there is inspiration, of a kind…… Here are some of the references that I dipped into when I was writing the Richard III reflection, that you may want to read further. Shakespeare by John Middleton Murry. – Jonathan Cape 1936. Shakespeare’s Kings by John Julius Norwich – Penguin 2000. Shakespeare’s History Plays by C.W.R.D. Moseley-Penguin 1988. Bloom’s Modern Critical Views: William Shakespeare – edited by Harold Bloom – Chelsea House, 2004. The Signet Classic edition of Richard III, 1964. There are one or two other books but they are at home and I do not have them to give you. Antony Sher’s THE YEAR OF THE KING was one of my inspirations as well. I think it is a Penguin publication.

    Kevin J

    P.S. I believe the first major quote is from the Norwich text. And the second from the Moseley.

  3. Thanks Kevin.

    It is standard practice, and ethical, when quoting the work of others to make the appropriate attributions. Otherwise, it’s theft.

    And it’s much less confusing for your readers, too.

  4. Goodness me! Thanks Kevin for giving us such rich insights into the works on offer in Sydney. I am yet to see R3 but feel “prepared” after reading your insightful words.

  5. Hi there. What a great weekend of theatre! Richard on Saturday and Muckinuppin on Sunday – I think that Hewitt’s play is terrific and long to see more of this kind of thing on Sydney stages….was disappointed with the production. Wasn’t tough enough somehow! What would the Richard mob have done with the financial resources of Company B? Ah– what would the Hewitt have been with the creative resources of the other? KB

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