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Review: "Richard III"

June 26, 2012 12:28 a.m.

A look at stage and screen adaptations of Shakespeare's "Richard III"

Related Story: Review: 'Richard III'


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Summer Shakespeare is in full swing at the Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando speaks with the creative team behind "Richard III" to get some insights into one of Shakespeare's best known villains.

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TAG: "Richard III" runs through September 29 at the Globe's outdoor Festival Stage.



From his opening lines, Shakespeare's Richard III reveals a delight in manipulating not only the members of the court but the audience as well.

JAY WHITAKER: He's moving the chess pieces constantly and yet at the same time playing this character that everyone thinks he's not smart enough to be moving all the pieces.

Jay Whittaker plays Richard in the new Globe production. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando has a review of the play coming up next on Morning Edition.

My introduction to Shakespeare's "Richard III" was as a child when my dad made me stand by the back door of the Old Globe Theater to hear the play's opening lines...

Richard III: Now is the winter of our discontent...

We were going to see the play later in the summer but my dad wanted to build a proper sense of excitement and anticipation about a character that he thought was one of Shakespeare's most exuberant villains. The real Richard III was likely very different from the character created by William Shakespeare in the 1590s. But on stage and in a series of memorable films the last king from the House of York has been immortalized as an artist in evil who both fascinates and repels. Lindsay Posner tackles the play for the first time in this summer's Globe production.

LINDSAY POSNER: Evil when presented on stage is charismatic.

Posner's "Richard III" brings the 16th century play into a very contemporary setting.

LINDSAY POSNER: In terms of the design and the concept we've tried o make it feel very modern and that the battle scenes and very exciting, and I hope that this way it immediately will speak to people in terms of what it's about.

On stage, graffiti covers concrete walls, soldiers carry guns, we hear helicopters flying above, and members of the royal family play to news cameras because Posner wants audiences to make specific connections.

LINDSAY POSNER: We've been through various historical moments recently with Gadafi and Hussein, which follows pretty directly with the psychological and in one sense the storyline of "Richard III." Obviously not in its historical context but in every other way.

This contemporary approach works best in the final battle scenes that look very much like images we've seen on the news. There's also a contemporary feel to the pace with a breathless sense of forward momentum. But what proves timeless about the play is the character of Richard who's played by Jay Whittaker.

JAY WHITAKER: I think the joy of the part and of watching it is seeing him woo the audience and charm them and then turn.

RICHARD: Upon my life she finds, although I cannot, myself to be a marvelous proper man.

The misshapen Richard -- deformed, unfinish'd, and sent before his time
into this world -- takes great delight in manipulating those around him. At one point Richard woos Lady Anne on her way to bury the husband Richard has just killed. Whittaker calls the scene a great bit of improvisation.

JAY WHITTAKER: That's a pure improv; he's thinking on his feet, okay that didn't work, what's next? He just keeps trying new things until he rattles her so that she can't speak and he throws a ring on her finger and it's all over.

Defying expectations, he wins her hand and gloats over his victory.

RICHARD: I'll be at charges for a looking glass, and entertain a score or two of tailors to study fashions to adorn my body.

JAY WHITAKER: He definitely gets joy from it and gets joy in bewildering the audience as much as he does the characters and making them laugh at moments when it might not be completely appropriate to laugh.

RICHARD: Sign out fair sun till I have bought a glass that I may see my shadow as I pass

JAY WHITAKER: It always seems like he's pushing people, everyone that he's around, he's pushing them beyond their comfort zone...

RICHARD: Have I they consent that this shall be done.

JAY WHITTAKER: And everybody's being manipulated, all the time. There's not a single person free from his manipulation.

Not even the audience. But that's what makes the play so dynamic. Richard pulls you into his confidence, rivets you with his schemes, and ultimately repels you with his cruel manipulations. It is one of Shakespeare's earliest plays but it reveals not only his genius but the vigor of a young artist testing his craft. And it's all on display in the Globe's new production.

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.