Tag Archives: richard iii redux

So let’s talk about representation of bodies (1)… richard iii redux

Sara at Cilgerran Castle, Ceredigion. richard iii redux. Photo: Kaite O’Reilly

There has been a spate of high profile all-female productions of Shakespeare the past few years – Maxine Peake playing Hamlet in Manchester and Phillyda Lloyd’s trilogy of Julius Caesar, Henry IV and last year’s The Tempest, to name just a few. As a woman working in theatre, I applaud any attempt to provide more visible platforms for women practitioners, and believe there is still much to be mined from the classics with cross-gender casting (and I mean male actors playing female roles here, too…). Yet in the midst of all this welcome talk about diversity and parity, I believe there is still one area hugely overlooked – and that is atypical embodiment.

I have spent half a lifetime and most of my career collaborating with and writing specifically for what I call atypical actors in my atypical plays. I’ve often spoken about how I appear to have two careers – one in the so-called ‘mainstream’, writing new versions of classics like Aeschylus’s Persians for National Theatre Wales – and another within disability arts and culture, which has been invisible and seemingly of no interest to the media until recent years. For the past half decade I’ve tried to marry my ‘crip’ culture work to my ‘mainstream’ profile and argued for inclusive casts and the aesthetics of access as a matter of course rather than something ‘special’ to gain brownie points for the venues involved. For me this is my ‘normality’ and it is gratifying to perceive the debates opening up about power, diversity, and the make-up of our theatres and moving image industry – but discussions about disability still lags behind.

Sara digging up her Richard – richard iii redux.

From 2011 I was a fellow at the International Research Centre Interweaving Performance Cultures attached to Freie Universitat in Berlin.It was my great fortune to have the time and encouragement to reflect on my work between disability culture and the so-called ‘mainstream’ and to write a series of published essays about my work.

During my residencies in Berlin, I became fixated on how live theatre – my medium – has demonised, dehumanised, or deified physical, sensory and neurological difference. I began paying closer attention to how fellow dramatists portrayed in particular atypical embodiment, the poster boy being of course that personification of evil, Richard III. And so the seeds for the project richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III came into being.

Sara Beer and director Phillip Zarrilli digging up their Richard III in Llandysul

Out of fear of misrepresenting the production Sara Beer, Phillip Zarrilli, Paul Whittaker and I are in the process of making, I will stress our project is neither high-brow, academic, nor tub-thumping. In order to explore the themes of disability, representation, and the possible ‘hatchet job’ committed by the Tudors on what seems to be historically a fair and popular King, we need to travel light,  fast, and with humour. I am not a fan of dour, PC, or dreary productions and prefer – rather like our poster image – to stick two fingers up at being ‘worthy’. What we hope to do is shake things up a bit, to play with the playing of that ‘bottled spider’ Richard III, to explore elements of the historical Richard with the Shakespearian representation, and deconstruct how this villain has been portrayed in the past.

Videographer Paul Whittaker and director Phillip Zarrilli check the footage. Cilgerran Castle.

.In effect, we want to make a production which is subversive and entertaining, prompting laughs along with the odd moment’s reflection. It’s a challenging mix, but also one that makes me giddy, especially after this weekend’s work, filming (often with great fun and hilarity) in Cardigan and Ceredigion. Sara Beer is a phenomenally versatile performer, who switches from serious to high camp comedy on a sixpence. Her presence certainly enlivened our soggy day’s filming, following Henry Tudor’s trail en route to the Battle of Bosworth, where Richard III was slaughtered, so paving the way for the Tudors and the current House of Windsor.

The production will be a mix of live and pre-recorded video captured on location across Wales and at Bosworth battlefield itself. Much of the film footage is done, and Paul is currently working on our trailer, which I can’t wait to share, probably in my next blog post.

Cardiff Shoot – richard iii redux begins!

A red phone box in Roath… A corridor backstage in a theatre… Oh the glamour of a video shoot in Cardiff…

Mockery aside, it’s incredibly exciting to finally be starting practical work on The Llanarth Group’s next production: richard iii redux OR Sara Beer Is/Not Richard III. We have been researching and generating materials for months. I have been writing what I see as ‘punts’ or propositions in a collaborative project. Co-creating is vastly different from my solo authored work, where I monologue with myself. Collaborating means dialogue, it means pitching and persuading, throwing a cap of an idea into the ring and bracing myself for any takers. I love it.

Phillip Zarrilli directing Sara Beer on location backstage

richard iii redux has been a long time coming, a project discussed in excited whispers with director-collaborator Phillip Zarrilli for what feels like years. The production questions much of what we know about Shakespeare’s villain:

Richard III: Bogeyman. Villain. Evil incarnate. Or is he? What if he is she? What if the ‘hideous…. deformed, hobbling, hunchbacked cripple’ is portrayed by someone funny, female, feminist, and with the same form of scoliosis? How might the story change, the body change, the acting change, the character change when explored by a disabled actress with deadly comic timing and a dislike for horses?

richard iii redux will be an exploration of the above, in a one woman show featuring live camera and video – and that’s what performer Sara Beer, director Phillip Zarrilli, videographer Paul Whittaker, designer Deryn Tudor and I are up to this week, sulking around backstage corridors and in red telephone boxes.

Sara will play a series of personas during the show – personas often, but not always, very similar to her actual self. We are still in the process of defining these voices and the attitudes they take to the subject matter, so Sara’s head is often swimming as we decide ‘not that Sara, the other Sara, you know, the third one’ should be voicing a particular mediatised section. As the shoot is in advance of our official rehearsal process, starting next week, I suggest we play safe and capture several versions of the same material in different personas/voices. By the end of the day, Madam Beer is tripping over her meticulously-memorised lines and I note with interest how the same speech when rendered in one persona comes easier than others.

Sara on location in a phone box.

At this point in the creative process, I feel like a detective – looking at all the material we have generated and deciding what might be clues, what might be evidence, and what are the red herrings which need to be discarded, as they take us away from our task in hand…. There is writing, then rewriting, flights of fancy and careful choreography instantly abandoned. To some, the slow, painstaking process of creation and discovery, rejection and affirmation must seem horribly haphazard, but there is an order to our chaos, and it is exhilarating when a production moves from the sum of its separate parts and begins to form a whole.

That is what lies ahead in the next few months, as we come together to rehearse and make, then part to reflect and absorb. We find spreading the rehearsal period out over several months immensely effective, enabling development of ideas and the creative dust to settle. I will be documenting this process over the next weeks, leading to the world premiere at Chapter arts Centre on international women’s day, 8th March. For a female production dealing with Richard III, that seems quite an auspicious date for opening….

 

Bosworth battlefield – starting work on richard iii redux

 

Sara in the ‘authentic soldier camp’, prior to the Battle of Bosworth re-enactment 2017.

We have been researching Richard III for some time…. Back in August 2017 collaborators Sara Beer and Paul Whittaker travelled with me to Bosworth for the annual re-enactment of the battle which cost Richard his life. Our favourite place was the ‘authentic soldier camp’, where enthusiasts, dressed in period clothing, camped out for days  in what they claimed to be authentic fifteenth century living conditions. The generosity and bonhomie of the camp undermined the supposed animosity between the ‘sides’, with the participants passionate and informed about social and political history.

A Richard III enthusiast gives a lesson in campfire cooking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enthusiasts had travelled considerable distances to participate in this annual jamboree. We spent time around the campfire of some students from Bangor University, got cooking tips from a postgraduate from America, and posed in the tent of a party following in Henry’s footsteps from France.

Matt, one of the students from Bangor, let Sara borrow one of his broad swords – just what was needed for a rendering of ‘A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!’

Sara Beer at the re-enactment of the Battle of Bosworth, 19 August 2017

With many thanks to all we spoke with, who greeted us with such generosity, and in particular the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre.

 

new year, new production – richard iii redux

Shakespeare’s Richard III: Bogeyman. Villain. Evil incarnate. Or is he? What if he is a she? What if the “hideous… deformed, hobbling, hunchbacked cripple…” is portrayed by someone funny, female and with the same form of scoliosis?

This is the premise of my forthcoming collaboration with Sara Beer and Phillip Zarrilli of The Llanarth Group: richard iii redux OR Sara Beer is/not Richard III will take a long, hard and not completely serious look at this infamous figure, evil personified, and raise questions both about Shakespeare’s hatchet-job on what historically appears to be a good and popular King, and the interpretations of this formidable role from actors ancient and modern.

The posters arrived…waiting to be sent out to the venues for the opening in March 2018

.

 

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

 

The first two days of development begin tomorrow – and I can’t wait. We have researched the subject fairly comprehensively, read books, seen documentaries about the royal body in the carpark and scrutinised celebrated productions of Shakespeare’s play…  I’ll be documenting the process as it happens, here….