Thursday, 30 June 2011

why I, that am not shap'd for sportive tricks

Richard III.  Obviously.  A play for anyone in politics, and a story for anyone in spin.  The Old Vic has a new production, with Kevin Spacey as Crookback.  I am a fan of Kevin Spacey, but you wouldn't think he had the face  for King Richard, would you?  Laurence Olivier famously made himself grotesque for the part on the stage, with a false nose.  I am sorry that I never saw Antony Sher in the role in the 1980s, who picked up on the phrase "a bottled spider" and played it like that, I am told.  The best Richard I have ever seen was Ian McKellen in the film by Loncraine.  But I have not seen many.  I have been a bit funny about the play ever since I did it for O-level.  The part that is hardest to understand is that of the lady Anne, who loathes Richard but in the space of one scene is persuaded to marry him.  The McKellen film convinces by playing Anne as a junkie.  The film is set in a fascist state and is utterly chilling.  But there are many ways to play Richard.  Very often the character's physical appearance is extreme in some way, but not always.  I would like to see my son, who is a professional actor, play him - he has no physical oddities other than being very tall. I would like to see him (Richard not my son) played by a woman.

Richard's name became a hissing and a byword down the centuries, in large part because of Shakespeare's play.  There have been attempts to redress this, with limited success.  Many people if asked would say that Richard was a wicked man who smothered the two little princes in the tower.  Josephine Tey is very interesting on this.
McKellen as Richard

Spacey as Richard


15 comments:

Jonny said...

Seana McKenna is playing Richard III at Stratford this summer.

Anonymous said...

How amazing that you should have posted on this! I have just emailed my theatre-going friend to say that I am very pleased that we decided to give this production a miss.

We started going to the Bridge Project plays at The Old Vic ( of which this is one) in 2010.The Cherry Orchard and The Winters' Tale - both with Rebecca Hall and Simon Russell Beale - were excellent.
But As You Like It, with Juliet Rylance - was total crap - to the extent that we cancelled our pre-booked tickets to The Tempest. When this came up, we agonised - but decided to give it a miss. Sam Mendes has lost the plot re the Bridge Project and if you want to know just how - then read today's review of Richard by Quentin Letts in The Daily Mail.
I have gone off Kevin Spacey - who seems to me to have failed to scale his American Beauty heights in subsequent outings. ( Oh what a falling off was there etc). Olivier remains the definitive Richard - as he remains the definitive Hamelt , Othello, Coriolanus and Archie Rice.
Fiona Shaw played Richard 11 - as a woman, of course. I expect she will get round to Richard 111 - it seems in line with the other sort of things she does - such as Mother Courage.Incidentally, the MP for Ham and High, Glenda Jackson was the definitive Mother Courage.Glenda was also the definitive Gudrun in Women in Love. But I am not keen on Fiona Shaw. Nor am I that keen on Richard 111. The best political play is King Lear - also the best domestic tragedy and just about the best everything else.

What need one? is still the most chilling phrase in Eng lit.

Jonny said...

Lady Anne's behaviour is puzzling, but not inexplicable. First there is the dramatic force of necessity - she has already cursed any woman who marries the Duke of Gloucester, and that that woman should be herself carries forward the theme of tragic inevitabilty.
Second, Richard is quite the orator, and not necessarily ugly - Ian McKellen certainly isn't, and as you say, his version is compelling. I saw it live and terrified myself by wanting to salute and chant "Amen" as he is announced King - just before his hand rises in a familiar straight-arm salute. My little Nuremberg.
Third, there is the psychological attraction (dangerous ground here) that victims of abuse sometimes feel toward their abuser. She has already refused to kill Richard, or even urge him to suicide, despite invitations. Playing her as a junkie seems interesting here - a similar attraction/self-harm dynamic is a constant of addictive behaviour.

Ed said...

I have been trying to get a copy of the Ian McKellan version of Richard III for ages but it has been "deleted" so the only copies on Amazon are about £25 now.

It's a great film, especially the end when he is falling in slow motion into the fire.


Ed

Augustus Carp said...

It got a rave review in the Times this morning, fwiw. Unfortunately, I have to go and see "Punch and Judy" or whatever it is called at the National tomorrow night - Richard III at the Old Vic sounds a lot more interesting.

Dermot Yuille said...

That you should quote a historical novelist, rather than a historian, in support of the 'Richard was innocent' thesis probably says all you need to know about its robustness.

Drawing on my long-gone study of Richard at Uni (in the History, not the Eng. Lit department), the obvious issues of motive, opportunity and previous track record mean that there is no more plausible candidate for having ensured his nephews disappeared.

Anonymous said...

I do not like Ian McKellan AT ALL now -- he became stagey and preachey after John Major made him the patron saint of Stonewall and invited him to tea at No 10. McKellan -- having lived so long in the closet that he had virtually added an annexe, became nastily holier than thou as soon as he finally came out --- and out Tatchelled Peter in insisting that evrybody had to vacate their closets PRONTO.

Well - fine for Ian, and I am glad that he is glad to be gay. But not everybody wants to leave their closet - some like it and have even decorated it with ducks swimming up the wall. And why should they not, if that is their choice? It is a free world, Ian, isn't it?

His acting has gone off - his Godot was excrable and so was his recent Lear. Not to mention his damey panto stints and Coronation Street outings. However, I am fully prepared to believe that he was fab in the Richard film ( and would like to see it), because he was also fab in an old film of Macebth with Judi Dench as Lady M. Very compelling and Nazi theme.
Oddly enough, he was also fab playing the rabidly hetrosexual John Profumo ( Jack), in the film Scandal -- with the tremendous Joanne Whalley Kilmer as Christine, the brill Bridget Fonda as Mandy Rice Davies and the excellent John Hurt as Stephen Ward. McKellan was just great as Profumo.

Jane Griffiths said...

Dermot I only said the Josephine Tey book was interesting, I didn't cite it in support of any thesis at all. If you are a historian I would expect more intellectual rigour than that from you, and frankly I would even if you are not. Oh and a big part of the interest was the social history of the 1950s, as I am sure you will agree from your own reading of the book. Thanks for reading. Oh and do people really say "uni"?

Anonymous said...

The people who say 'uni' are generally those born in the seventies.

Those who WENT in the seventies would not be seen dead saying it -- those born in the eighties tend to say 'college' - as do those born in the twenties. Funny that.

Jane Griffiths said...

It is. I went to university in the 1970s and I cannot imagine ever saying "uni". My son, born in the eighties, says "college". My daughter, born in the late seventies, referred to it by the place name, as did her friends from there.

Anonymous said...

Richard III is a play to be re-interpreted for each time it's shown as it remains very relevant.

The Ian McKellan film is a wonderful thing and well worth finding.

I'm glad to see a blog post about something other that a certain town in England. Perhaps you are starting to move on.

Augustus Carp said...

....and if you are rather old and very posh, you say "The Varsity", without specifying which one of the two it was.

Anonymous said...

Jane is not a motor car in a parking lot , so stop telling her to 'move on'.

Very few of her posts are about Reading -- but many are about reading.

Why not READ her blog before making trite and ill-informed comments? In fact, why not READ -- full stop?

Anonymous said...

..and if you are really old-fashioned and posh, dont you just talk about "going up". Everybody will assume it is one of the older Oxbridge colleges.

Anonymous said...

And you talk about 'going to town' - when you mean London.