Thursday, 11 February 2016

richard iii

On Saturday 30th January I went to see a one-woman version of Richard III at the Draper Tenants Hall - less than two minutes away, my shortest-ever journey to a venue.

I wondered if they imagined they were taking Shakespeare to the plebs on the south London estates, but I imagined that the plebs, from the estate or otherwise, would all be rather like me (and I'd say they were). I thought it would be interesting. I was looking that morning for something we might do that evening; the other members of my household did not fancy it, but I was allowed to go by myself... The production itself had been well-received in previous runs, including at the Fringe last summer, though I wasn't familiar either with the actress (Emily Carding) or the company (Brite Theater, put on by Infallible Productions). (The Draper Tenants Hall/Association seems to be quite go-ahead with putting things on, and it looks like Infallible Productions are planning to be putting on more in the Hall.)

We had to wait outside until we were all there so that we all went in at the same time, and as we went in 'Richard' gave nametags ('hello my name is...' type, but blown up to A4 and hung around people's necks) of characters in the play to the first few people who went in (not me). I think she sat them in particular places; it would have made sense, so that the same character was in the same place for every performance. The audience chairs - about thirty - were in a circle, and in the middle sat Richard on an office chair (so she could wheel about and turn) with a little table on which were a bottle and glass of wine and some stickers saying 'dead', which she stuck to people as she killed them. She interacted with the person representing a character when she was talking to or about them, although they weren't required to do anything on the whole (some of them had to move or respond in some way on occasion). It lasted just over an hour.

It was done pretty well, and she was pretty good. It was mostly Richard's own speeches; the big advantage of that over the one-person Hamlet I saw, for example, is that Richard is driving the action and talking about it, so it's possible to tell and make sense of most of the story from his words, with the reminders of the audience-characters. Hamlet, on the other hand, is reacting and reflecting, and the one-person version I saw would have made little sense if you weren't pretty familiar with the play.

One of the things which worked unexpectedly well was that near the end, on the night before Bosworth Field, where I think in the play he is visited by the ghosts of all those he has had killed, he looked around at the audience-characters, who literally surrounded him, as if they were appearing to him in that way.

There were occasional non-Shakespearean interactions and ad libs. The funniest was that obviously she couldn't start till everyone was in, and she was told there was someone still in the toilet, so she went out to chase him up. I had seen him beforehand, with a lady in a wheelchair who he was related to and who obviously knew the actress; in fact, she drew her in particularly at the start to be the old queen; he seemed to have some kind of disability also; when he came in with Richard, he sat beside the lady, who I think was her aunt, and said quite loudly to her, 'Is she drunk?', since her behaviour obviously wasn't what was to be expected in a normal theatrical performance. She said something like, 'that's not a bad question'. It did seem to set the scene quite nicely.

Some reviews (it's been on all over the place, so I'll try just to get ones from this run at the Drapers Tenants Hall). Everything Theatre (which gives a very clear account of the set-up, and broadly liked it). Theatre Bubble (another good account; interestingly, they saw it at a previous venue where it was done on a normal stage, which would have felt quite different, and I wouldn't have thought would have worked so well). That seems to be it.

The website for the production, OneWomanRichard, has a page of reviews, which are naturally positive (though admirably they don't seem to have edited out the negative remarks), and none of them are from this run (though they are all from 2015), but they give you further ideas of what it was like. From that, it seems that some of the audience were brought onto the stage to play their passive parts if the performance was on a stage area.