Theatre preview: Richard III at the Tobacco Factory - by Steve Wright
Until now, in their illustrious 13-year history, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory have made their name with brilliant renditions of the Bard's comedies and tragedies. From playful, joyous renderings of A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Comedy of Errors to powerful, emotionally precise versions of the great tragedies – Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, Othello – the Bristol company have won themselves some deserved fame for their annual seasons, not to mention strings of four- and five-star reviews from the national critics.
Intimate, sensitive performances, superbly staged and designed and directed with unfailing clarity and intelligence by SATTF founder Andrew Hilton, the company's annual brace of Shakespeare productions has become a highlight in anyone's theatrical calendar, be they from Bristol or beyond.
An area SATTF have strayed little into thus far, though, is the third group of Shakespeare's plays: the histories, those plays that, albeit loosely, adapt the story of England from 1200 to 1550, from King John to Henry VIII. Indeed, the company's first crack at the cycle of plays came just two years ago, with a brilliant Richard II. This month they return to the Middle Ages with a version of Richard III. Shakespeare's great play famously tells the story (well, a version of the story) of the so-called Hunchback King, who sharp-elbowed his way to power and then met his downfall, yelling for a horse, on Bosworth Field as the Tudor dynasty began.
Of course, SATTF's production couldn't possibly have come at a better time, with the recent thrilling news that a skeleton exhumed from a car park in Leicester city centre is, beyond reasonable doubt, that of Richard III. It's one of the most exciting historical discoveries for decades, bringing Richard's life, and brutal last few hours on Bosworth Field, into vivid focus: just as Andrew and his cast begin their run, interest in the Hunchback King is at fever pitch.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, June 30 2013
Shakespeare's play follows the deformed and ruthless Duke of Gloucester as he charms and murders his way to the throne (the two Princes in the Tower are among his victims) – before charting his ultimate downfall at the hands of his cousin, the future Henry VII.
Richard is often demonised for his murderous progress to power. The thing about Shakespeare's Richard, though, is that as well as being selfish, scheming, power-hungry and ruthless, he's also quite engaging. He addresses audiences directly, creating a sense of conspiracy: he's eloquent, at times even quite witty.
So should this cartoon villain and murderer need to be played with some charm and attractiveness, or is he an out-and-out figure of hate?
"He must be engaging, certainly, and yes, he is witty; he is also bold and daring," Andrew Hilton reflects. "At times we marvel at his capacity to deceive. His relationship with the audience is like that of a Master of Ceremonies, calling other characters onto the stage and dictating events. Later in the play he loses this power and becomes much more the plaything of events, like all the others. That, of course, is where the nightmares begin…"
John Mackay, a 2001-03 SATTF veteran who has spent the intervening years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, returns to the company this year to play the Hunchback King. "I was looking for a Richard with a mercurial intelligence and swiftness of mind, and that capacity to be simultaneously attractive and loathsome," Andrew explains of his choice. "There is a danger of playing him as mere damaged goods, simply wreaking revenge upon the world for his misfortunes. When I met John to talk about the possibility, it was immediately apparent that he could play a Richard who actually liked himself."
Has Andrew approached his brace of history plays in different ways to the comedies and tragedies?
"No. The more you look into reliable historical accounts, the more you realise that Shakespeare is plundering the past for stories – just as he did contemporary fiction, or Plutarch's take on the Romans, for his comedies and tragedies."
Indeed, Richard III behaves like one of Shakespeare's tragedies, not only in its use of sources but also in its narrative arc – one man's overweening ambition brings destruction to many others and, eventually, to himself. Macbeth, anyone?
Richard III is also Shakespeare's second longest play, after a certain Danish tragedy. Has Andrew had to cut much from the script? "I have cut a fifth of it! It wasn't a painful process: I actually enjoy editing, and think some of Shakespeare's plays should be pruned – quite apart from the practical necessity of getting the audience home before the buses stop…"