The Llanarth Group’s reimagining of Richard III written by award-winning playwright Kaite O’Reilly sees Sara Beer ready to rule in the lead role of the king. Review by Chris Tally Evans
“Richard III: Bogeyman. Villain. Evil incarnate. Or is he? What if he is she? What if the ‘hideous…deformed, hobbling, hunchbacked cripple’ is portrayed by someone funny, female, feminist, and with the same form of scoliosis?”
We’ve all seen Richard in one way or another – Olivier’s monster, Sher’s profoundly disabled bull / spider or followed Al Pacino Looking for Richard on the big screen. In Richard III Redux Richard is, in this case, a disabled woman who examines the historical figure, the theatrical creation, and the character’s relevance and appeal to the actor and her life.
Kaite O’Reilly’s carefully scripted reimagining takes us on interwoven journeys starring the king himself, key actors playing Shakespeare’s villain and Sara Beer’s passionate desire to act. This gives great scope for wordplay, mixing Shakespearean dialogue with autobiographical story telling, barbed digs at the pomposity of the theatrical elite and searching insights into the nature of what being disabled means, both then and now.
It’s a complicated business, with Sara switching moods and viewpoints, as well as reacting to video exchanges with herself and others. Where Richard III Redux triumphs is in juxtaposing the story of the young girl, battling against pointless medical procedures and unhelpful spine-straightening Milwaukee braces with the absurd vanities of the indulgent actors who have portrayed the king on stage. Sara is rejected by drama colleges – training her is simply a waste of money. Whereas Anthony Sher spends a year in preparation (he is held up to ridicule in the way he writes about disabled people as if they were strange, exotic animals to be approached with fear and caution).
We are kept firmly in Wales through the domestic wisdom of Sara’s Nan, providing a homely counterpoint to the high-blown theatrical prose. Finally we are led on a journey through Wales to a skeleton in a Leicester car park, not the misshapen, hunchbacked, club-footed monster. We discover that this was Shakespeare’s propaganda for his new master whereas the real King Richard was, in fact, a much loved and successful monarch. In the same way, Sara Beer’s story – the major roles with the prestigious companies that she hasn’t played, the BAFTAs she has never been able to accept – show us where the monsters really live.
Oh, and by the way, I forgot to mention it’s really funny. I mean, very, very funny. If Sara Beer has one thing, it’s oodles and oodles of on-stage charm. Audiences love her, whether she’s sending herself up as a would-be diva or revealing her younger self. This audience was no exception, laughing one moment and then the next hanging on her every word.
Kaite O’Reilly’s play gives depth and dimension to the many themes and continually intrigues and excites by sparking new synapses between previously unconnected thoughts. My one moan is the appropriation of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be…” [Richard] was unnecessary and just a bit cheesy. Phillip Zariilli’s direction seems freer, more fluid and less contained than in other work of his that I’ve seen and I think this suited the play and its sole actor excellently.
Deryn Tudor’s set and costume allowed Sara to move from cosy armchair, to the stage, to Ted talk nicely without being too fussy. The surtitles are woven into the fabric of the piece and the option of touch tours prior to the shows with the writer mean that the accessibility of this production is self-contained, feeling organic. Joe Fletcher’s lighting adds atmosphere and definition to the transitions and Samuel Jones’ sound design gives the piece a crisp, contemporary edge, merciifully a million mlies away from someone thumping out a gavotte on a fife and tabor.
Paul Whittaker’s videography bestows an added dimension, providing excellent opportunities for revving up the humour, adding reflection and giving the one woman in this 75 minute, no internal performance a chance to catch her breath and take us to the next level.
Richard III Redux is an insightful piece of disability art, mixing demonstrably excellent work by disabled people with biting social comment. More than this, it lets us into a new Richard, one free of disabling barriers. But rather than talking about it, my best advice is go and see it. You won’t regret it.
Richard III Redux can be seen at:
Chapter Arts Centre, 9, 10, 16, 17 March
Aberystwyth Arts Centre Studio, 14, 15 March
Theatr Clwyd, Mold, 19, 20 March
The Torch Theatre, Milford Haven, 21 March
Small World Theatre, Cardigan, 23 March