Venue: Guildhall Council Chambers
On the last day of the York International Shakespeare Festival, Richard III was king and murderer once again. DramaSoc brought Shakespeare’s masterpiece back to life at the Guildhall Council Chambers as a modern-day political thriller.
The Guildhall provided an extremely powerful setting to this play: a political murder story played out in the very place of politics and law invites us to dwell upon the dark side of diplomacy and, ultimately, of human nature. The very last scene of the siege in which Richard is killed gains particular force in this setting, almost on par with that of a real coup.
For how suggestive it may be, it is evident that the Council Chambers were not built to serve dramatic purposes. The chairs tightly packed around the central table left the actors very little space to move. Although the actors did not hesitate to exploit the available space to its best by moving behind the audience and jumping over tables and pods, this was done perhaps too sparingly.
I feel that the impossibility to control stage lights influenced the performance negatively in those instances where a soliloquy, a death, or a supernatural scene could have had a much greater dramatic impact with a dimmer lighting. To this end, a make-up artist would have been a fine addition to the backstage cast (especially in the ghost scene’s case) where some white powder and fake blood would have made the dead characters much more ghoulish.
Most of the audience was placed on the benches at the room’s back. The fortunate ones who found a place in the inner circle must have had a more intense experience, being swept right into the action. But from the benches, you had difficulty in actually seeing the action unfold, thus resulting into an ever-growing feeling of alienation.
The actresses were simply superb in their interpretations. I was particularly struck by Margaret’s (Jess Alternam) spite-borne intensity in hurling her curses at Richard; Lady Anne’s (Serena Bury) mourning for her murdered husband masterfully heart-breaking. I also appreciated the artistic choice of turning Buckingham (Loussin-Torah Pilikian) into a woman, proving how the dirty world of politics is not just a matter for men. The female cast truly brought new emphasis on their crucial roles within the plot.
Now, to our main character and star: Richard III. Sam Hill perfectly renders the tyrant as an evil man that basks in his geniality. Outspoken, arrogant, confident; a ruthless politician beautifully intoned. He was by far the most dynamic character on stage – his constant scuttling around a physical representation of his evil genius set in perpetual and frenetic motion to serve his interest. I was particularly struck also by Max Fitzroy-Stone’s interpretation of King Edward in his last intervention: his presence on stage was imposing, worthy of a true leader, despite his malady. His shoulders surely fit the chair dominating the assembly squarely, in contrast to Richard’s slumping poise.
This modern adaptation was refreshing and the story smoothly (re)told. Richard as a character was interpreted differently to what I expected: his more vulnerable, human side has been somewhat neglected, making him more of a politician you want to hate rather than a tyrant you are inevitably brought to sympathize with. Moreover, juxtaposing Margaret’s intense speech to Richard and his followers’ playfulness in the first “curse scene” brought down its deep dramatic tone rather than strengthening it.
Despite these technical difficulties, which, I believe, partly stifled the play’s true potential, I must acknowledge that DramaSoc really outdid itself with this interpretation of Richard III. I hope to see another play as wonderfully wrought as this one soon, and sincerely congratulate all the students involved in the making and delivering of this little jewel.