Last night I went to see The Changeling Theatre’s adaptation of Richard III at Upnor Castle. Whilst I was really looking forward to the production, I was also feeling ready to tut under my breath at the unrealistic representation of Richard III – a man I have come to feel has been mistreated by history and by Shakespeare in particular. I was, therefore, surprised and delighted by this refreshingly clever and very funny production.
The setting for the play was beautiful – it was a gloriously hot and sunny day, and on the hill the audience were seated on we had the perfect view of the castle and the river behind it. This setting and the entire space were made the best use of by actors – with the action taking place in front of the audience, behind us from the top of the hill and at times amongst the audience. The cast also made the most of audience participation, there were times I felt part of the crowd cheering for the new King Richard III or quietly taken in on his secret plotting – this participation went so far as food and drink being taken from some audience members to be included and one brave man declaring for Richard, himself.
The brilliance of this play for me was the comedy – this is a dark and very bloody play, with few of the central characters escaping with their lives, however, the director Rob Forknall brought out the comic side and the excellent cast had me laughing out loud on a number of occasions. Richard was a villain, but he was also very appealing and rather than feel repelled by the character I felt rather drawn into his game. Alex Mugnaioni, who played Richard really bought out the humour of Richard’s lines and drew the audience into his private jokes. There were many very funny moments in the play – and many of the moments which should have been tragic were transformed, such as the murder of George, Duke of Clarence.
The play had been modernised in many ways – including the use of modern technology and characterisations that we would be more familiar with today than over 500 years ago. My personal favourite was in the excellent interval song about the discovery of Richard’s remains – a car park is no resting place for a King! For me, including modern references and putting the focus on the comedy of the play emphasised the problems with Shakespeare’s representation of Richard, whilst showing the relevance of and pure brilliance of Shakespeare’s writing in this play. So much of the effect is changed by the production and the actors.
When the remains of Richard III were discovered in Greyfriars car park in Leicester, there was a real feeling of disappointment from Richard ‘devotees’ when it was demonstrated that he had been a ‘hunchback. What Alex Mugnaioni has proven – with his arm held up in a sling against his body to mimic the withered arm and movement of a hunchback – is that this does not matter. His Richard may have been physically flawed, but he was also mesmerizing and charismatic. Although, I still do not think Richard was a villain, I am now convinced that his hunchback was no barrier to him being a great King.
If you look at the pictures from the grave site and read the reports by the experts, you can see that Richard’s skeletal flaw was a sort of sideways curve, which resulted in his having one shoulder higher than the other. It is clearly visible in the photos of his skeleton. (Also clearly visible were two perfectly even, useful sets of arm bones-no withered arm, of course.) He did not have a hunchback, despite various secondary reports. Just sayin’. ( You’d think there’s something really sinister or evil about being a hunchback…) Sounds like a wonderful production of the play.
Yes I read that – it was such an amazing discovery wasn’t it. I know ‘hunchback’ is an exaggeration, it just seemed a shame to me that people seemed disappointed with that. The sling they used did actually reflect the one shoulder higher than the other, but it did also show the withered arm. Like I said, I appreciated that the physical imperfection Richard had in the play didn’t in any way impact on his presence. It was a great production and I would highly recommend if it is coming your way .
On a purely historical note, anyone who thinks that Richard’s physical challenges somehow detracted from his ability as King, should note the contemporary records that confirm his prowess in battle. In addition to his twisted spine, he also had a slender physique (also reflected in contemporary accounts and confirmed by the skeleton which was initially thought to be female.) This is the same man who, already a proven warrior before Bosworth, led the charge on Henry, killing the standard bearer Sir William Brandon with his lance and unhorsing the giant Sir John Cheyney with the broken end, before being cut down himself. Whatever opinion people may have of him now, and however well founded or otherwise, this man was made of stern stuff.
The photos of Richard’s skeletal remains indicate quite clearly that his spine was broken, snapped when his body, probably in rigor, was forced into the small grave. Any forensic or lab tech will tell you the spine does not show signs of curvature. The Tudor animals broke his back.
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