After attending the Guildford Shakespeare Company’s gloriously polished staging of William Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Holy Trinity Church in Guildford a sickening realisation struck me. By having not viewed one of their productions earlier I had missed out on six years of entertainment from a group of dedicated and talented individuals. Thankfully I have numerous years remaining to me in which to attend many more such productions.
Established by Matt Pinches and Sarah Gobran, the GSC have produced critically acclaimed and sold-out interpretations of many of the Bard’s greatest works, from The Tempest to Romeo and Juliet, throughout Surrey since 2006 in site-specific venues.
Now some may frown upon the choice of non-theatrical environs such as a church for a dramatic production but this merely reflects how things were done in the era of Shakespeare himself. Often the plays came to life in locations as diverse as inn courtyards, royal palaces, and the decks of sailing ships. With the use of a location such as the Holy Trinity Church the GSC is remaining true to the spirit of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras in which Shakespeare’s plays were first staged.
Richard III could be labelled as being akin to a soap opera, though with slightly less blood and more royalty. Characters engaged in personal conflict and intrigue with questionable love affairs and killings aplenty, though most of the latter take place off-stage – the notable exception being the final battle at Bosworth between Richard and the Earl of Richmond. You really can’t beat a good sword fight in a Shakespearean production.
The final battle brought the skills of the actors and the resources of the backstage team to the fore with hand-to-hand combat in the aisles and upon the stage, blood-red lighting, and shadowplay against backdrops to represent the horses that would have been involved in the real battle. Unlike the lead character in Shakespeare’s great history play, this production of Richard III was certainly not “Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time”.
As slick as the set, costumes and props may be, any play thrives or expires in relation to the actors bringing the text to life. This is especially true of Richard III where the lead character is required to carry the majority of the tale and is barely off stage. If Richard is truly poor in realisation instead of truly bad in character then the entire proceedings will collapse in upon themselves. Thankfully Tim Allsop provided a malevolent and note (as well as line) perfect rendering of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. The best way to define his interpretation to a non-Shakespearean orientated individual would be as Lord Voldermort complete with hunch and withered arm – only scarier.
A few aspects of the production did slip through the cracks and after all the damning praise that has come before it would be remiss not to mention them, though I hasten to point out that they did not bring the evening of enjoyment tumbling down around my ears. The French accent used by Queen Margaret was difficult to understand at many points and a few other characters did not project their voices clearly enough to reach the groundlings lurking at the rear of the seating. During the interval I heard another audience member comment that there was a tendency amongst some of the cast to rattle through some of the lines which rendered them unclear to those not totally familiar with the dialogue. However, these are minor and personal issues with what was one of the best theatre experiences I have had in many a long year.
Richard III runs until Saturday 25 February 2012 and if you are lucky you may be able to obtain a ticket for one of the remaining performances. It’s not many towns or cities that have their own band of Shakespearean performers so go along and throughly enjoy yourself whilst supporting an important local resource.
Find out more about the Guildford Shakespeare Company here