29 March - 5 April 2014
Sat 7:45pm, Mon 7:45pm, Tue 7:45pm, Wed 7:45pm, Thu 7:45pm, Fri 7:45pm, Sat 2:45pm, Sat 7:45pm
It is a great pleasure to return to directing Shakespeare in our theatre’s 75th Season. This year could not be more fitting as it is the 450th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and exactly 200 years since Edmund Kean took London by storm playing Richard III – his most enduring role – at Drury Lane. From my own perspective, it is 50 years since the Royal Shakespeare Company’s epic Wars of the Roses Season when John Barton and Peter Hall presented the cycle of seven history plays commencing with Richard II and culminating in Richard III. Like them, I have extensively cut the Shakespeare folio text to distil the very essence of Richard III into a two hour performance. Add to this the recently discovered remains of Richard beneath a Leicester car park and we have a production that is most apposite.
Miles Jenner takes on the role of Richard with a strong cast of both seasoned performers and newcomers to the Lewes stage. We are also blessed with a wealth of experience in our technical and backstage teams. We have enjoyed a very fruitful rehearsal period and bring some fresh perspectives but, more importantly, a clear-cut, exciting production of one of Shakespeare’s best loved history plays. We look forward to welcoming you.
Like Hamlet, Richard III is one of those parts that numerous star actors and directors have taken on over the years. This darkly comic study of murderous tyranny portrays a seductive rogue in one of the bloodiest chapters in English history but is also a timeless picture of power gone horribly wrong. Modern leaders such as Putin, Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Un clearly show that the desperate need to appear powerful can seem, at times, blackly comic.
Shakespeare’s second longest play after Hamlet was written in 1592 and is rarely performed unabridged. Here director Nicholas Betteridge has ‘cut the folio text to distil the very essence of Richard 111 into a two hour performance’. He set the play in Edwardian England and consciously chose to cast women in some of the male roles.
For an actor, Richard III is a study in changes and shifts – a showcase in what in acting terms is called ‘actions and activities’. The pragmatic and audacious Richard does whatever it takes to achieve his end. For an audience a character with a clear and unstinting vision of what they want, who goes all out to get it, is always compelling. They act out our basest, unspoken desires and we look on and marvel. Providing a central character such as this gives any play a powerful engine that can alter the dramatic structure of the story and influence every character. In this case, where the stakes for all concerned are not only power but literally life and death, the stage is set for an engrossing experience.
Miles Jenner as Richard III - a malevolent, puckish, belligerent figure concealing long-felt personal pain, inadequacy and rejection – understood and embraced all the shifts needed to make this part work. For two hours his command of Shakespeare’s sublimely imaginative, visceral language remained strong and vibrant. Richard III sends an audience on a roller coaster of conflicting emotions – shock, disbelief, sympathy and a surprising amount of humour. Miles served as an excellent master of ceremonies.
In an ensemble of 18 actors, some of whom played multiple parts, it’s very hard to pick out specific performances. Nick Betteridge’s extensive knowledge of Shakespeare served his cast very well, and more than that, he directed all his actors with rigour and care. However, I was struck by the immediacy and clarity of Isabella McCarthy Sommerville’s performance as Richard, Duke of York. David Parton as Sir Robert Brakenbury delivered his little soliloquy in the cell with The Duke of Clarence beautifully. Tony Bannister as Duke of Buckingham authentically commanded the courtly world and Shakespeare’s language with consummate skill and ease.
Keith Gilbert’s stark, gothic, set was perfect. This play is a timeless and brilliant exposition of the human need for power and has no need for a fussy or period-specific backdrop. It also provided an apt platform for the costumes designed by Alison Soudain and Gerry Cortese. The detailed, beautifully coloured and well-coordinated Edwardian wardrobe showed well against the black clean lines.
Impressively, Nicholas Betteridge chose a mixed cast of highly experienced actors and newcomers. Carefully casting women in some male roles, he constructed a cohesive, committed and confident cast. In their biographies members of the cast less experienced in Shakespeare mentioned their excitement at having this opportunity. This is something unique that a theatre such as LLT can provide.
It served as a fitting celebration of LLT’s 75th season and the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. And to cap it all the real Richard III has just risen from a car park in Leicester. Shakespeare’s Richard III was very much alive and as engrossing as ever on the LLT stage last night.