- Richard IIIdir. by Joeri Vos
It is well known that Shakespeare’s history plays are not the most popular plays in the non-Anglophone world. The Netherlands are not an exception, and plays such as Hamlet, King Lear, The Taming of the Shrew, and A Midsummer Night’s Dreamare far more popular on the Dutch stage. However, of the histories, Richard IIIis by far the most performed play, totaling almost as many productions as all of Shakespeare’s other histories together. Since World War 2, the play has been performed, on average, once every four years by a professional company. The most recent production of the play was by the theater group Oostpool and was directed by Joeri Vos. The Dutch theater system consists of four major, subsidized, national theater companies, of which Oostpool is one (the others being Toneelgroep Amsterdam, Nationaal Toneel, and Noord Nederlands Toneel). Next to these, there are four medium-sized theater companies, and a whole series of smaller ones. Theater group Oostpool has existed for over six decades and is known for the diversity of its repertoire, which [End Page 139]consists of four pillars: (1) classical and new repertoire; (2) productions that explore the boundaries of theater; (3) theater for younger audiences; and (4) talent development productions. The company draws a yearly average of 50,000 people to its performances.
Richard IIIwas directed by Joeri Vos, who also translated the play. His inspiration to engage with Richard was born of “our fascination with the terrible crimes of individuals” (all quotations from the director are from the Dutch program notes to this production and are my translations). He stated, however, that he did not want to make a completely free adaptation: “It’s still about an English royal family, but more important than that, it’s about people and how they deal with power, war, sadness, loss, ambition, and love.” In translating the text, Vos changed much of the poetry of the play into prose “in order to make the characters more human.” One of the strengths of the text was, to him, the reasoning of the characters: “the argumentation and the intelligent replies, the clever and often humorous rhetoric, those I’ve tried to maintain in the translation.”
As the audience filtered in for the production, they were confronted not only with a series of actors on stage, but also with some sixty audience members who had arrived a while before, and who were in the process of finishing their dinners. Drinks were being poured from a bar upstage right while actors served these drinks and desserts to the audience members seated at large rectangular tables downstage, positioned in the shape of an “m,” with some of the actors joining in the dessert. All the while, upstage, next to the bar, a small band (including a harp, harpsichord, trombone, and guitar) was heard playing a Renaissance melody. This setting directly included the audience as members of the royal court and broke through the usual separation between actors and audience members (Fig. 5). As Margaret, for example, accused both Richard and other members of the court of owing her a husband, a son, and a kingdom, and of depriving her of all joy, the audience members formed a key part of the court that stood accused. The direct involvement of audience members made the accusations hit home harder, an effect further strengthened by the “hear, hear” calls that seemed to come from everywhere. After this scene, the audience members on stage were directed to a group of benches...