Last week at the fabulous Pop Up Globe in Auckland, I went along to see Richard III, Shakespeare’s depiction of the last Plantagenet monarch’s rise to power.
Richard III is often simultaneously described as being a comedy, tragedy and historical play. This production perfectly captured the comic side which can often be difficult to portray with such a villain at its centre. Richard mercilessly manipulates and murders his way to the top, still managing to win audiences along the way with his wonderful way with words and memorable speeches. Think House of Cards but with fantastic Jacobean period dress and swords.
Is it also a tragedy? This, I guess, will depend on how attached/frustrated/indifferent you become towards the other figures in the play. Richard’s contemporaries are certainly not portrayed as being the biggest and brightest on the block (unfortunate pun that I am sure Shakespeare would approve), with some, such as Lady Jane, seemingly complicit in her own doom.
As to the play’s historical label, audiences have to be wary of Shakespeare’s bias (or perhaps just adaptability to the times), considering his audience included Elizabeth I, the granddaughter of Richard’s successor, Henry Tudor. In this production there were also some modern references – the two princes in the tower were sulky teens sporting headphones, while Richard’s hired thugs presented themselves as street wise gangsters. These small hat tips to the modern day were subtly done and received some good laughs.
Against the beautiful backdrop of the replica Globe Theatre, the performance was given just as it would have been in Shakespeare’s day, without microphones and depending solely on the power of the actor’s voice. The cast really knew how to draw in their audience – at times even making their audience the actual audience, to Richard’s coronation, for example.
As with all of Shakespeare’s plays, universal and timeless themes come through, such as the abuse of power and man’s journey into evil. If you think Shakespeare isn’t for you and you don’t see the point of pondering over all those footnotes, you really should think again. It is often said that everything you need to know is in Shakespeare – and really who could disagree? No one has ever managed to capture the good, the bad, the ugly, the wise and unwise quite like the Bard, and no one has ever managed to surpass his beauty and mastery over the English language.
The library has many resources to help you start or continue your journey through Shakespeare’s oeuvre including copies of his works and free to borrow DVDS of his plays. If you can’t make it to the Pop-up Globe, locally our own Court Theatre often has a Shakespeare production on the way, and there is also Top Dog’s open air theatre to keep an eye out for.