Auckland’s Pop-up Globe: Richard III

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.

Further reading

That troublesome king

Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England and great villain (or not) of English history, is still causing trouble.

The recent discovery of his remains under a car park in Leicester, made headlines around the English speaking world. Arrangements were duly made to inter him in a suitable tomb in the local cathedral. Enter Richard’s (collateral) descendants in the form of the Plantagenet Alliance, who pointed out that he had very little connection to Leicester and wanted him buried in York. Legal battles ensued which are yet to be settled.

cover of Richard  III the maligned kingArguments have raged around him before. For centuries most accepted Henry VII’s version of him, which depicted him as the deformed, ruthless murderer as portrayed in Shakespeare. He always had his supporters though and eventually doubts began to emerge, first among historians and eventually in popular culture. History had indeed been written by the victor.

Novels had an important role in convincing the rest of us that the princes in the tower story may not be true. The first one to come to my attention was The Daughter of Time (1951) by Josephine Tey in which a detective confined to bed investigates and concludes Richard is innocent. The second was  Elizabeth Peters mystery novel The Murders of Richard III published in 1974. Cynthia Harrod Eagles The Founding and A rose for the Crown by Anne Easter Smith also come to mind.

Richard has also been the subject of numerous other interesting fiction and non- fiction works including a recent one on the search for his remains.  The various stories are well worth exploring.

Do you have any favourite novels about historical figures that we really must read?