All the World’s a Stage (no.15 in series)

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In the run-up to The Ninth World Shakespeare Congress in Prague I posted a selection of blogs from grant winners looking forward to that event. Over the next couple of weeks I will be posting a selection of blogs from some  more of those grant winners.  This week’s contribution comes from Necla Çikigil  who is Associate Professor at the Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey.



Necla Çıkıgil

When Bank of America- Merill Lynch presented the Bridge Project which involved the production of Richard III as well by the Old Vic, BAM &  Neal Street, the play travelled to İstanbul to be performed at the Harbiye- Muhsin Ertuğrul Playhouse between 5 – 9 October 2011. The play had opened in London at the Old  Vic on 18 June 2011.

It is interesting to have Richard III performed in İstanbul within the Bridge Project framework since İstanbul is a city which has literally been the “bridge” between the East and theWest embracing diverse cultures throughout the centuries.

Richard III has always been a popular play in Shakespearean theatre history, its popularity dating back to Shakespeare’s own lifetime. Hence the famous Richards ranging from Burbage to Sir Laurence Olivier. It is a challenging part for a 21st Century actor when before him there are so many monumental portrayals of the part. On the other hand Shakespeare’s Richard is a monumental actor too who really enjoys playing numerous parts to spectators who swallow whatever is delivered to them.

Since the production that came to İstanbul is a travelling production, the setting was kept very simple designed by Tom Piper. The minimalistic design presented an empty stage (a greyish-white box) on either side of which there were 5 doors and at the back 8 doors could be seen. Later the back doors disappear leaving a long deeper stage.

When the play starts a big capitalized NOW is projected onto the back wall. Under the big NOW, Richard’s black armchair is seen as his “control tower” where he contrives his evil plots. He is a winner at the beginning with his “inverted” plots so the word NOW also stands for WON. Each scene has a capitalized title projected onto the upper part of the stage to help the spectators follow the traffic of the characters appearing and disappearing which is also a help for the different spectators that will be watching the play in different countries. In Act I, the titles are mainly ANNE, ELIZABETH, CLARENCE,KING EDWARD,CITIZENS, RICHARD DUKE OF YORK, PRINCE EDWARD, HASTINGS, RIVERS&GREY, THE COUNCIL, THE PUBLIC, THE TOWER. After the interval KING RICHARD can be seen but the word KING is on one side RICHARD on the other side since Richard is no more the controlling central figure who has lost his integrity and “alacrity” even though he has become the King.   At the beginning of the play King Edward’s image is projected onto the back wall to be replaced by Richard’s image later. Richard’s image appears again before his coronation showing a repentant individual addressing the onlookers through this projection presenting himself as a modest and an innocent human being.

The tables that are used  to represent council meetings turn into opposing camps when at the end of the play Richmond and Richard have to challenge each other. Around the same tables the selected 7 victims of Richard (in the play he has 10 victims) sit to haunt Richard and to bless Richmond while the two sit on either end of the table right before the final battle.

As Richard has his victims murdered thus closing down a house, Queen Margaret puts a cross on the doors at the sides of the stage. Doors close yet doors may open too. Richard uses these doors to enter at the right moment when his name gets mentioned (speak of the devil…) or when he feels he has been away from the spotlight too long.

Sam Mendes’s production clearly displayed the team work involved in the staging of the play.

Since Kevin Spacey, the Artisitc Director of the Old Vic and someone who is so keen on impersonating famous performers ranging from Katherine Hepburn to Jack  Lemmon (who Kevin Spacey sees as his mentor), received a lot of publicity as soon as he arrived in İstanbul and even before, one  worried that the performance would be a one-man show. It was quite evident that all the players had worked very hard and performed with great strength and consistency. The refined delivery of the lines and the use of the language (both English and American) proved to be impressive.

Shakespeare, a theatre person took a character from English history and created a new theatre character. Shakespeare’s Richard is an actor who delights in his own performance. Kevin Spacey is an actor who delights in his own performance too.In Kevin Spaecy’s case, however, there is double acting. Actually Kevin Spacey had to  impersonate Richard and a crippled character. Obviously this must have put a strain on him since he had to be carrying his hunch back and limping about with a braced leg and trying to show his dexterity with the language and his never-ending energy constantly contriving plot after a plot. At the end of the play he has to be lifted upside down and remain suspended in the air for quite a while before the play is over.But Kevin Spacey seemed to endure all this and skilfully overcame this impediment and managed to stay fit till the end of the play although there were times that the strain was affecting him and his voice.

The weakness of Richard lies in the fact that he only contrived to get to the throne and to wear the crown but unfortunately he has not developed his strategies well enough to remain in power once he becomes the king. He lacked that foresight. Hence, the deterioration of Richard in the second part of the play. Even his language, his wit starts failing him and one by one people around him start abandoning him. Only ghosts of his victims are his bed-fellows.

At the beginning of the play Kevin Spacey is really enjoying the part he is playing outwitting each character that he comes across. Yet, he is challenged by Queen Margaret . Gemma Jones as Queen Margaret was a theatre monument on stage. There were times when she did not have to speak  and yet just be on stage. Her presence was indeed overpowering. In the play also Richard overlooking the power  of the Queen is outwitted by her.

The most powerful and the effective scene of the play was when Queen Margaret (Gemma Jones), Queen Elizabeth (Haydn Gwynne), Duchess of York (Maureen Anderman) chant their sorrows almost creating a scene  from a Greek Tragedy. The voice command, the body language, the gestures were were very powerful. Another actress who was equally effective was Annabel Schoely as Lady Anne who later became the ineffective Queen sitting on her throne already like a dead body next to King Richard. She was very successful indeed playing the difficult part  of Lady Anne who is filled with diverse emotions. She has to experience the dying down and soaring up of different emotions in a short period of time which was presented by Annabel Schoely very convincingly.

Another memorable scene was the scene in which the First Murderer (Gary Powell) and the Second Murderer (Jeremy Bobb) try to come to terms with the idea of murdering Clarence. Reward versus consience dilemma is effectively and humorously presented. The most exploited follower of Richard, the Duke of Buckingham (Chuc Iwugi) has been portrayed very meaningfully as well. Being loyal, serving one’s master obediently are not merits in this world of “wrangling pirates” as Shakespeare’s Margaret in the play declares.

Sam Mendes created a clever choreography for Richard to dance about on stage although Richard in his first speech emphasizes the fact that he is “not shaped for sportive tricks”. Richard is paired with various characters and then he changes his partners moving onto the next one as if he is on the dance floor. The famous pairs are; Richard-Clarence, Richard-Hastings, Richard-Anne, Richard-Margaret (sharing the same dance steps), Richard-Prince Edward, Richard-Buckingham, Richard-Tyrrel, Richard-Queen Elizabeth, Richard-Ratcliffe. When he is not paired with anybody, he enters through one of the side doors (almost breaking and entering) not to be left out of a meeting. Similarly, he enters the forced and fake reconciliation scene and bursts out his news upsetting a possible but not achievable harmony.

He makes his plans, shares them with the spectators, and puts them into an action.He is not only a speaker, he is also a doer.Unfortunately, after he reaches the summit which is clearly presented when he walks towards the throne in his ceremonial attire, he has no more plans. Even his walk towards the throne is not firm. He stumbles along the way. What he accomplished overpowers him. Sam Mendes staged this change of affairs very cleverly. Richard had already said “ We are not safe”. Indeed, nobody is safe in this unpredictable world of Richard.

Another successful arrangement of of the players by Sam Mendes was seen when the players came into the auditorium and spreaded among the spectators and started applauding and cheering Richard on the screen.

The timeless costumes designed by Catherine Zuber, the light effects of Paul Pyant, and the projection by Jon Driscoll were very effective and powerful as well. The sound effects arranged by Gareth Fry and the music of Mark Bennett set the atmosphere immediately. The keyboards and the percussion sounded the changes taking place successfully which were placed on either side of the stage.

In this dark play,  there were points where laughter lit up the atmosphere and indeed as a play Richard III can easily make the spectators laugh as well.

In this Bridge Project, therefore the play Richard III ,including both English and American players and travelling through various cities of the world, becomes a meaningful enterprise of uniting different talents (players) and reception (spectators) to create a total theatre.

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Author:Nick Walton

Nick Walton is a Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

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