- Richard IIIby the Shakespeare Theatre Company
The stage of the Sidney Harman Hall had been transformed into a single room with gray, concrete walls resembling those of an underground parking garage. A utility sink stood just to the left of center stage, and a large operating room light, which would be swung around to various positions during the performance, was fixed overhead. The set included a large double door, for exits and entrances, upstage center, and a concrete walkway extended above and around the entire room with a door toward its left end to create a balcony. A stairway at the left corner of the stage connected the two levels. The set never changed: the entire play was set in a mortuary.
While Shakespeare's Richard IIIonly stages one of its many murders in front of the audience, this production chose to portray them all, graphically and gruesomely. As blaring, pounding music filled the theatre, Clarence was stabbed and thrown into a stainless steel vat. He bobbed up and down three or four times as his murders struggled to keep him underwater. Rivers and Grey (Vaughan was cut from the production) were thrown through the double doors upstage and strapped onto gurneys. Tubes connected to a large bottle of red fluid were inserted into their arms, and they were poisoned intravenously. Hastings too was strapped to a gurney and rolled to center stage under the operating room light. An actor brandishing a hacksaw moved across the front of the stage and then, with some actors encircling the gurney and others spread out across the apron, marching loudly in place and clapping rhythmically, Hastings was decapitated. As the "operation" was carried out, Richard and the rest of the company appeared along the walkway above, blood rolled down the stage, and the first act came to an end. [End Page 417]
The Princes were drowned with funnels inserted into their mouths and water forced into them. Lady Anne, as Cara Ricketts put it in a post-performance discussion, underwent "death by corset." When Richard became king, he changed the brown brace he had worn on his chest to a gold one. Anne wore a matching gold vest when she stood next to him in 4.2. Her murderers pulled the straps on either side of the vest to crush her and then strangled her as well. Buckingham got off easy: he was simply hooded and shot in the back of the head. The setting of the play in a mortuary and the graphic staging of the murders turned England into a killing field and allowed the production to shift the focus from the War of the Roses to the tyranny and violence that disfigure our own world.
The company created a kind of music to punctuate the action of the play. During Richard's soliloquy at 1.1.144ff ("He cannot live"), two actors stood on stage sharpening knives, creating a slow, rhythmic twang. At the end of 2.2, Catesby and another actor entered, snapping belts ominously as Richard and Buckingham spoke. The murder of Hastings, with the actors spread across the apron, marching in place and clapping, introduced a new form of music. As the Princes were murdered, actors gathered on stage, stamping their feet and rhythmically striking their chests with their hands. Later, in 5.2, as they stood on the walkway, they again stamped their feet and slapped wooden sticks together as Richmond spoke to...