I had the chance to see both nights of King’s Shakespeare Company’s Richard III, and it was awesome. I don’t possess any knowledge about theatre (in fact this is the third play I’ve ever seen), but after going to cheer on a couple of classmates, I have become increasingly awestruck every time.
This play opens like a scene out of a mob film crossed with a parable from the Bible; key members of the cast, dressed in elaborate suits and ties, sit around a table making small talk, almost resembling Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. The costumes are thoughtfully chosen, from the King in his elaborate blue pinstripe suit and red tie, to the assassins dressed in subtle, black fitted attire. You are drawn to details such as who is wearing gold jewellery, and whose status is just enough for silver or pearls. My personal favourite has to be the Duchess of York’s (Kate Jones) look, a simple black apron dress and an extravagant gold hoop earring. It gives her a motherly presence while reminding us of her authority.
One interesting difference in this play is the stage. The space is vast and the cast perform to audiences on both sides, forcing the audience member to remain active; you have to constantly manoeuvre your head and eyes around the stage to keep up with the action. The cast have to fight extra hard for the audience’s attention over this large space. It is similar to how film directors use certain techniques to directly guide your eyes around the frame, but, as the play runs at over two hours long, I believe these live actors have it a lot harder.
The scene in which the King finally has enough, and lashes out at everyone, perfectly demonstrates how the cast are never afforded a break. There are many performers in this scene, all of whom must react to the King's attack in a way that resembles their character best without taking the attention away from the King. Hastings (AJ Gardner) comically remains with his arms folded, Earl Rivers (Melissa Sapp) maintains her sassy persona, Buckingham (Ben Tolmie) carefully shows he is torn between both sides. Yet, everyone is just delicate enough with their reactions that the King remains the focus. Impressively, the King was played by alternate actors over the two nights I watched, drawing different reactions from the cast. Naz plays the King with a slower pace, using a low crackling voice that leaves the characters almost regretful. Bert McLelland, who is also the play’s director, plays the King with an in-your-face intensity, causing the characters to appear overwhelmed. The cast’s bond was also on display on closing night when, towards the end of the play, there was a minor mishap from one of the characters - they shouted a line slightly early. It caused a slight giggle among the group and for another member to turn a second early, yet they all recovered perfectly.
With the audience on each side of the stage, your viewing experience can be unique in a pretty special way, as demonstrated by the scene in which Lady Anne (Lani Perry) mourns her murdered husband. On opening night, the side I sat on allowed me to see firsthand just how good Perry is, specifically through her realistic expressions as she approaches each line. On the closing night I sat on the opposite side, unable to see her expressions but equally thrilled to see the reactions of the crowd opposite me; most of whom were impressed to see what I had watched the night before. All members of the cast got a chance to shine in this performance, some of whom include: Ratcliffe (Georgia Small), who had all eyes on her whenever she was on stage, Clarence (Baxter Westby), whose monologue was extremely precise and engaging, and Vaughan/Oxford (Bridget). Bridget's role was mostly a quiet one, thus ensuring that the sudden gasps between words during her assassination scene did not go unnoticed.The surprise of the show, however, was the performance put on by Nim, a child who showed an incredible amount of confidence for her first ever play, delivering lines perfectly and even taking a stab at another character.
However, the highlight was definetely Richard III herself, Georgia Geupel. The first play I ever attended was The Three Musketeers directed by Geupel, so I had high expectations going into this show. They were entirely exceeded. From the start of the performance you can see her attention to detail: the slicked back bun, the use of makeup to create a blood red scar stretching down her eye, and the single grey contact lens that obscured half her vision. I already touched on how effectively everyone reacted to the King lashing out, and Geupel’s response was subtle, yet gripping. She tilts her head less than the other characters, showing she is not above the King just yet, but plants the seed that she will certainly get there. The best thing about Geupel’s performance is her chemistry with each and every character she performs with, all of whom work to bring the best out in each other.
Elizabeth Woodville (Eliza Cameron) and Richard have a long back and forth towards the end of the play, probably the longest exchange in the entire play, but neither of them lose the audience. Elizabeth’s immense voice is matched by Richard’s tactful utterances, both of which come together to ignite this scene. Much is the case in the exchange between Margaret of Anjou (Jasmine Newton-Rae) and Richard, where the difference in composure is not only shown through their voices, but through actions. Newton-Rae is purposefully all over the place, alone, vividly depicting Margaret's troubled psyche at this moment in the play, whereas Geupel’s performance is like one of a classical villain, completely untroubled and surrounded by her entourage. Thus, when Richard starts the second interval with an unexpected rock performance to the song Basket Case by Green Day, her ability to adapt to whatever is required is revealed as second to none. I cannot imagine the confidence Geupel had to muster up in order to perform this scene, let alone bring the energy and liveliness that she does. By the end, despite being such a great villain, you cannot help but feel sympathy for the character.
Oddly enough, watching that final scene was even more touching for me on closing night. Knowing Richard’s time was about to come to an end was sad to see, but I was glad that I got to see so many talented people perform. All I can say is that I am excited to see what is next for this incredible KCL bunch.
Check out the full gallery of rehearsal images below:
(Photos by Isobel Histed and Jasmine Newton-Rae.)
Edited by Georgia Gibson, Theatre Editor.