Emma Geliot's picture

Richard III - Image Kirsten McTernan

Director Yvonne Murphy s all-female version of Richard III took the audience to a hidden part of the Wales Millennium Centre. Elaine Paton sees the murdering monarch in a new light.

Richard II, Image Kirsten McTernan Richard III, Image Kirsten McTernan

Climbing up into the interior of the WMC s exoskeleton all rust-red beams the audience for this new production of Shakespeare s history play enters a scene miles away from The Globe or The Rose. Designer Gabriella Slade s labyrinth of scaffolding, cling film and silver foil, blends into the WMC s maze of air conditioning ducts and tunnels, to create something that is more Alien than Royal Shakespeare. Add to this Tic Ashfield s eerie sound scape, supported by clanking girders, gushing pipes and a ferocious hailstorm drumming on the metal roof, I understood how Ripley felt. Only we weren t in fear of a saliva-dripping monster it was,A hell-hound that doth hunt us all to death .

Richard II, Image Kirsten McTernan

Yvonne Murphy set out to:Create an ensemble of timeless creatures , women who are storytellers,lest we forget the horrors of war. This all female ensemble achieved exactly that. Even though I love Shakespeare, my mind can wander off with the weight of the text and the intricate plots and sub plots. Even in a gender-specific production, I can lose track of who all the Dukes and Lords are in relation to each other. However, despite the shifting allegiances of the feuding Plantagenet dynasty, it didn t matter if I wasn t exactly sure of who was speaking, as what the characters wanted and who they were aligned with was so clear. In any case, there wasn t time to worry about not keeping up with the who s who of the York family, as we were quickly moved from one space to another, standing up and sitting down as if attending a Catholic mass.

Richard III, Image Kirsten McTernan

I ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Richard and Murphy seems to sympathize with him too.What happens to your mind, your heart your world, if your father is killed in battle no one loves you and your own mother curses you and wishes you were dead? No wonder Richard had a few psychological issues on board.

When the play opens, Richard is a rejected loner, an unloved misfit, who has watched adults bump off anyone, men women and children, who get in their way. Playing Richard, Mari Phillips remarkable energy sustained for the long haul of Richard s descent into paranoia and ultimate destruction. Phillips revealed a mischievous adolescent, sharing with us a scheming ambition to be king, with a Billy Connolly twinkle of the eye. Her powers of persuasion lured us into following Richard on his murderous journey, lured by her triple-malt brogue. During her spine-chilling, calculated seduction of the widow, Lady Anne (played by Ana-Maria Maskell), her vocal acrobatics and determination to cast off the young widow s weeds made the slipping on of the wedding ring convincing. This Richard slithered like an anaconda, while keeping us firmly in his grip. Then just as suddenly sprung up like a child who has performed for the first time on his potty. How clever, how wonderful am I?

Richard III, Image Kirsten McTernan

The rest of this talented cast took us on a masculine marathon of bloodthirsty, power-driven revenge, like an Olympic team passing on the baton, as we scurried after them not wanting to miss out on any of the action.

But it was when this female ensemble played the matriarchs of this story who suffer the loss of husbands, children and their dignity, which showed them as resilient, powerful performers who embraced the depths of gory grief, weeping hot angry tears of injustice.

Richard III, Image Kirsten McTernan

Towards the end of this fast-paced lament, these noblewomen meet, united in grief and unrestrained rage. This text is one of the most moving descriptions of the suffering of mothers, whose innocent babes are butchered by the nonsensical tyrannies of war. These could be mothers in Syria or Palestine, experiencing the paralysis of pain.

After a crescendo of blood-curdling battle cries, I longed for some quiet time to reflect and wished for the women to sit together rather than stand at opposite ends of their domain shouting out to each other. Yes, shout at Richard, who callously snuffed out the light of the innocent, but grief is exhausting. Experiencing wave after wave of slaughter, might not these women lean on each other, their queenly status knocked sideways in a shared lake of tears, to create a womanly intimacy out of their common predicament?

Richard III, Image Kirsten McTernan

We started under the roof beams but, by the time Richard is slayed at the Battle of Bosworth, it felt like we had descended to the bowels of the building, both physically and emotionally. Meanwhile the Devil himself had come to claim Richard s soul, if he had one, leaving his remains to rot unceremoniously in a concrete car park.

Yvonne Murphy wanted to:Challenge preconceived ideas about how and where Shakespeare should be staged and whom it is for . From the audience s cheering, I'd conclude that that challenge was reached. I look forward to her next production and if this Richard comes to a venue near you, go and meet him.

Elaine Paton saw Richard III on its final night.

The production was a collaboration between Omidaze and the Wales Millennium Centre

All Images: Kirsten McTernan

www.wmc.org.uk www.omidaze.co.uk