Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Lolling on a lewd love bed

And also to the theatre. Northern Broadsides are celebrating their twenty fifth anniversary with a limited season of the play with which it all started, Richard III. It's only playing in Hull, as part of the UK City of Culture programme, and at their home base of the Viaduct Theatre. It has been many years since I visited Dean Clough and my first recommendation is to leave plenty of time to find the entrance which is carefully positioned so as not to be visible to anyone approaching on either foot or by car. Once inside however, I was welcomed to the auditorium by Bazza himself; the personal touch always goes down well.

Actually auditorium is pushing it; what we have is a large workspace within what a century and a half ago was the world's largest carpet factory, with a low central stage overlooked on two sides by banks of seating, with entrance and exit for the actors taking place from either end. This was the production's first night in Halifax and the layout caused some slight confusion. Buckingham gestured grandly in one direction for Catesby to head off to importune Lord Hastings only for the man himself to stride off rapidly in the other, to the general amusement of cast and audience.

Aside from the celebratory aspect, much of the publicity has highlighted the casting of an actor with a physical disability, Mat Fraser, as the title character. It's interesting that it is this rather than the alternative of someone able bodied affecting a disability which is seen as noteworthy, especially compared with the fact that it has been many years since the part of Othello became restricted to black actors, such as Sir Lenworth in Northern Broadsides' own version. I don't think it makes any difference in and of itself. Fraser makes the most of it by stripping to the waist in the Tower scene - the one where Hastings comes to regret not being more amenable to Catesby's entreaties and which this blog has had cause to reference previously - but no doubt a different casting would have resulted in a different bit of business; it's called acting. The central performance has to stand on its own - "to prove a villain" - and I'm pleased to say that it does.

In a first for a production that I have seen, the princes in the tower are played by adults. This worked well enough except that the same actor played both Edward V and Tyrell; I lost concentration for a bit while pondering how he had managed to smother himself off stage. There is no cross gender casting - more difficult to carry off in the History plays of course - unless one counts the reappearance towards the end of the actresses who have played the various queens, this time in male military uniform as standard bearers. And speaking of the queens, Flo Wilson is especially venomous as Margaret; get cursed by her and one will stay cursed. The battle of Bosworth provides one of two opportunities which are taken to shoehorn in a bit of clog dancing - the other is the coronation - and given the prominence of that art in their opera omnia one can forgive them this. Michael Jones thinks it was Frenchmen armed with pike who caused Richard to cry "A horse, a horse...", but apparently it was northerners wearing clogs; who knew?

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