“I defy you, [script]!” (or, changing Shakespeare)

There is (and has been for a while) a tendency in Shakespeare performance which implies that the more miserable your female characters end up, the more feminist your production is. To wit, Hero should be all but dragged to the altar at the end of Much Ado About Nothing, Jessica in The Merchant of Venice should seem like she’s made a terrible mistake, and no one in Twelfth Night should want the partner they’ve got. And, of course, we must keep on physically and psychologically abusing poor old Katherine Minola, just in case.

The opposite pattern– to try and smooth over the endings that are more obviously unsettling, like Measure for Measure and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, feels much less common these days. But that’s the angle I found myself thinking of while watching the Globe’s current production of Two Noble Kinsmen, which does its best to make the bizarre subplot of the Jailer’s Daughter, who goes mad for love of one of the titular kinsmen, as sweet and palatable as possible. As with so much in that play, the intended tone of her plot’s resolution is difficult to discern: a local doctor commands a local boy to pretend to be Palamon, who she loves, and have sex with her, at which point she’ll either be cured and they can marry, or she can just think she’s marrying Palamon. There are certainly some disturbing seeds there, particularly in a play that is overall so skeptical as to whether heterosexual marriage is really all it’s cracked up to be anyway. But in director Barrie Rutter’s version, there are no such concerns. Though there’s much joking about the Jailer’s horror at the doctor’s casual suggestion of extramarital sex, the fact of having sex with a girl under false pretenses is not really given much weight. The Jailer’s Daughter is eager enough, but as her final scene progresses, the softness and sweetness with which she and her faux-Palamon address each other seems to suggest either that her delusion is lifting and she is seeing and loving him for who he really is– or that we as audience are meant to set aside any concerns and accept that this lie-based love might be a kind of real anyway.

From a contemporary performance perspective, brightening up this subplot makes some sense, as the central plot’s resolution is murky and not particularly happy or satisfying. I’m not inherently opposed to this approach. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2014 production of Two Gentlemen of Verona, which I loved, took a similar tack, reassigning some of Valentine’s ending lines to Julia, so that she, too, had the opportunity to openly and explicitly forgive Proteus. Despite our tendency to devalue the power of forgiveness, this was an empowering and moving gesture. It was a choice that made the play better, from my perspective as a contemporary audience member, but they did have to change the play in order to make it.

Is changing Shakespeare in this way sort of like taking the n-word out of Mark Twain– censoring the past and attempting to turn a blind eye to the many shortcomings of the most iconic English-language playwright? If we are going to continue to produce Shakespeare, do we have a moral duty to then grapple with all the most troubling elements of his work and lay them bare– and to say, if we find certain elements too troubling to retain, then maybe we shouldn’t be performing the play at all? Or is it better to say that replicating offensive 16th and 17th century patterns is unnecessary, especially when it is often relatively simple to find an angle that allows for more hopeful and empowering readings?

I don’t have an answer, obviously. As you can probably tell, I was a little unsettled by Rutter’s take (though Francesca Mills, who plays the Jailer’s Daughter, is herself one of the highlights of the production), but I loved OSF’s very similar changes to Two Gentlemen. In general, I think in fact it’s more empowering to find ways for female characters to be happy than otherwise, particularly because subverting apparent happy endings often has the unfortunate side-effect of suggesting that even though these characters have told us what they want, we are not to believe them. Perhaps this is the difference between the cases of Julia and the Jailer’s Daughter: Julia is given new words, a new way to consent to what is otherwise unnervingly done on her behalf. The Jailer’s Daughter, on the other hand, has only her old words used a new way– but this new way requires that we take at face value what we know to be a lie.

It’s a trickier question, in other words, than ‘is it okay to change Shakespeare?’– and for now, it’s interesting to see the results of both approaches.

Thoughts: King Lear & Much Ado

Over the weekend, over the course of two productions, I had my first chance to see the Globe Theatre’s controversial new lighting rig and sound system, which it has been all but confirmed will be departing the space along with artistic director Emma Rice. The shows were King Lear, directed by Nancy Meckler, and Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Matthew Dunster. Both were matinees, which turned out to be a key element of my experience.

I could tell that both Lear and Much Ado had a lighting design because I could see the bulbs flashing on and off, see them changing colors, but I couldn’t actually see the effects of the lighting onstage. Because of course, in the daytime, the Globe’s only possible lighting plot is… the sun. You can’t see lighting design without darkness to contrast against. Neither show was noticeably harmed by this omission. If there was something important or particularly interesting that I missed because of the daylight, then frankly, that’s bad design. Because nearly half the performances at the Globe are matinees, and if nearly half your performances are missing an essential element, that’s a problem. And on the other hand, if the lighting matters so little that matinees aren’t materially harmed by not having it… then why have it? Why should the full experience of a show only be possible in half the performances?

This is an element of the controversy I haven’t seen discussed, and which hadn’t occurred to me before I experienced it firsthand. But having seen it, it feels essential. In many respects, the Globe is best approached not as a normal theatre, but a site specific performance space. If a show isn’t going to work with the physical conditions that the Globe imposes, then there’s not really any point in performing that show there. Similarly, if a design is just going to attempt to erase or fight against the facts of the space, then it doesn’t belong. A fact of the space is that matinees will take place in natural daylight, mostly during the summer. Yes, it’s England, and I was blessed with two particularly sunny days, but there aren’t that many summer afternoons where it’s going to be as dark as nighttime at 2pm.

Theatre is unpredictable, and every performance is different. But a design that demands such a fundamental difference between daytime and evening shows can’t really be waved off as merely a quirk of live performance. I don’t think any lighting designer would accept an argument that their work matters so little that it’s just fine if a large percentage of audiences just don’t see it. Setting aside questions of authenticity or historical accuracy or popularity, the simplest fact is that the lighting rig at the Globe Theatre, in the very literal sense of functioning correctly in order to perform its intended artistic role in a production, actually doesn’t work.

 

 

Shrews and Jews and Playing Oppression

Jonathan Munby’s production of The Merchant of Venice, which I saw at The Globe last summer, is coming to New York City as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. It’s a production that, mostly thanks to its leading man Jonathan Pryce and his daughter Phoebe Pryce’s immensely moving turns as Shylock and Jessica, manages to make a compelling story out of what can be one of Shakespeare’s more unpalatable subplots. But its return has reminded me of debates my classmates and I had when Jonathan Pryce’s casting was announced: specifically, whether Shylock ought to only be played by Jewish actors.

The question of whether Jewish characters should, in general, only be played by Jewish actors is one that is way too complex to get into here, but I think whatever one’s opinion, Shylock represents a special case, if only because of the role’s fame. Indeed, however one ranks Merchant of Venice’s inherent anti-Semitism (is the play itself anti-Semitic, or just the characters?), one cannot deny its checkered past, including an extensive performance history in Nazi Germany. Can only a Jewish actor ensure that Shylock is being treated with the proper respect? For a long time, without deeply examining the assumption, I thought so.

Another, even more unpalatable Shakespeare play raised the same question this summer when Phyllida Lloyd directed The Taming of the Shrew for Shakespeare in the Park, which recently closed. In keeping with her Shakespeare soon-to-be trilogy presented at the Donmar and St. Ann’s Warehouse, Lloyd handed the play over to an entirely female cast, led by Janet McTeer and Cush Jumbo as Petruchio and Kate. I’ll freely admit I was disappointed when this show was announced as Shakespeare in the Park’s first all-woman production, and no less disappointed when I saw the final product. The production never made a compelling case for its own casting, never used the female bodies onstage to illuminate anything about the play’s disgusting misogyny or to explain why a play that is about nothing more than the physical and emotional abuse of a woman ‘for her own good’ deserves continued performance at all.

When the play was announced I wondered, and I wonder still, why all-female Shrews are so common. Why do so many directors and companies seem to think that letting women act out a sexist fable makes the play more palatable? Does enacting one’s own oppression suddenly make it okay, or interesting? And then I began to wonder if, by wanting Shylock to be played by Jewish actors, I was expecting just that. The mere presence of a Jewish actor was meant to give the play a seal of approval: this Jewish person has approved of this through his participation, so it must be okay.

But does it? I’m inclined to think not. Much like that one loudmouth you know’s mysterious and unnamed friend of color who they insist is totally fine with that racist joke/that whitewashed movie/that off-color comment, such casting (especially in Shrew) seems to me less and less like actual commentary and more and more like a shield behind which to hide from questions about why we want to do these plays at all.

Now, I think the sensitivity that The Merchant of Venice requires can be achieved with or without a Jewish actor as Shylock, though I’d certainly look askance at a production with no Jewish voices in the room at all. The play, particularly in Munby’s production, has a lot to offer to a contemporary audience, and a lot to say about power, violence, and oppression. I think The Taming of the Shrew does not. And having it be women who abuse and torture one another rather than a man to a woman doesn’t make it any more interesting.

Top Shows of 2015

Here’s my list of my ten favorite shows of the year, in chronological order. I saw much less than last year, so it was a bit easier…

1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. I was definitely very late to the Curious Incident game, but I’m so glad I finally made it. It demonstrated for me the immense empathetic capacities of theatre. More artists should be using the stage not only to explore unshared stories, but through unshared subjectivities.

2. Golem. The first show I officially saw as a critic, which was very exciting. And luckily for me, the show itself was exciting, too: one of the more original and successful uses of multimedia that I’ve seen so far, paired with truly spectacular performances. Plus, some of the music still gets stuck in my head.

3. Romeo and Juliet. This play is done so badly so much of the time, I had almost lost faith in it. But I don’t see how you could help but be deeply moved by this production, rooted in an intelligent, achingly youthful Juliet and a sensitive, guilt-ridden Romeo.

4. DruidShakespeare. I’d longed for years to get to see a full set of Shakespeare’s second tetralogy, and though DruidShakespeare presented abbreviated versions of all four plays, the experience of seeing Richard II, the Henry IVs, and Henry V in succession was as interesting and moving as I always hoped it would be. I only touch on it briefly in the linked article, but highlights include Derbhle Crotty’s extraordinary Bolingbroke, Garrett Lombard’s deeply sexy Hotspur, and possibly the only cast I’ve ever seen that actually earned the name ‘gender blind.’

5. The Beaux’ Stratagem. The final entry in a series of masterfully directed comedies I saw in England, all of which derived their strength from recognizing that a comedy still must rest on the essential dignity and humanity of its characters– and in these specific cases, its female characters. Title and hilarious laddish hijinks aside, the heart and soul of the play lay with the women. And the musical numbers.

6. King John. I know, it’s hard to believe that a production of King John could make this list. It’s hard to believe that there could be a production of King John that you’d want to see twice, but that’s what James Dacre managed for the Globe. Given the recent outcry about people who dare to suggest altering Shakespeare’s texts, it provided an excellent example of the wonders a little tinkering can work.

7. Richard II. Maybe this was the year of restoring faith in Shakespeare plays I’d started to doubt in spite of myself (though after two go-rounds, I still don’t like Measure for Measure). This Richard succeeded by refusing to let the title character steal the show, instead broadening the scope of the history, allowing every character to feel important, and thus, every scene to feel propulsive. This was enabled in large part by David Sturzaker’s Bolingbroke, who, in counterpoint to Richard, quietly and stoically was led through a tragedy of his own.

8. Spring Awakening. I saw the original Spring Awakening shortly before it closed and wasn’t a fan. This production, on the other hand, was a revelation. Sign language provides a much, much more effective metaphor than rock music for the play’s central themes of miscommunication and alienation. The performers are all tremendous, and the fact that Wendla and Melchior actually look like teenagers makes a surprisingly large difference for the better.

9. Hamilton. Yeah, yeah.// EDIT: TIED WITH FUN HOME. I can’t believe I left this off at first. While Hamilton may be an unmatched musical achievement, I think Fun Home is at least as groundbreaking, and I found it more emotionally impactful (not that that means something is better, but still).

10. A View from the Bridge. I was so annoyed that I let myself miss this in London, but Russell Tovey, added to the cast for Broadway, is the ideal Rodolfo, so I’m not too mad I had to wait ’til I got back to New York. What is there to say? A sharp, clean, barebones production of a play that I personally think is nearly perfect. If Mark Strong doesn’t win a Tony, it will be a crime.

Review: Nell Gwynn

Let’s get the important questions out of the way right up front: there is a King Charles Spaniel in Nell Gwynn, Jessica Swale’s new play going up at Shakespeare’s Globe. She is only in one scene, and she received entrance and exit applause. Her real name is Molly. Her character’s name is Oliver Cromwell. 

Yes, it’s the Restoration: King Charles II is on the throne, the theatres are open again, and actor-managers are trying to figure out how to remake English drama after a ten-year break. Killigrew (Richard Katz), head of the King’s Men,  learns that his rivals have a brilliant idea, which has recently been given the king’s seal of approval: an actress. If they want to compete, they need one, too. 

Luckily for him, his leading man Charles Hart (Jay Taylor) has just the girl waiting in the wings. In between making love to her, he’s been training up the orange-seller Nell Gwynn (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in the art of acting. This tangled mess of motivations– love, art, economic advantage– are a tidy preview of the trials to come as Nell charts her ascent from selling oranges to wooing the King of England. The journey is fantastically fun, easily the most unceasingly delightful show at the Globe this summer, but also has a genuine heart. 

In the theatre, Nell meets a buoyantly hilarious cast of oddballs, including Graham Butler’s neurotic playwright John Dryden, Angus Imrie as the endearingly dumb Ned Spiggett, and Amanda Lawrence’s scene-stealingly funny Nancy, the company seamstress and Nell’s eventual confidante. The first act is largely a delightful take on the ‘putting on a show’ trope, interspersed with music and real questions about the nature and purpose of the theatre as it faces a seismic shift.

The play’s attempts to insist that the Restoration was the birth of the Strong Female Character, and its repeated dismissal of every single female role of the early modern period as worthless were unconvincing and felt a bit lazy. Killigrew, trying to persuade John Dryden that he’ll have more fun writing for real women, points out that because they’re real, ‘they don’t have to be so feminine all the time.’ It’s a shame that this interesting idea is never quite explored, nor is the alternate subjectivity offered by the first (known) woman writers to have their plays professionally produced (though Aphra Behn gets a shout-out near the end). 

However, the first act particularly raised the specter of questions that have been swirling around the theatrical world with particular fervor lately. Former leading lady Edward Kynaston’s (Greg Haiste) frantic insistence that the inclusion of those people will only sully the pure, traditional nature of his art sounds all too much like arguments recently used by those who insist that Verdi’s Otello must be done in blackface, or The Mikado in yellowface. 

Less time is spent filling in the side characters in the court (though Sasha Waddell earns her moment of humanity as Barbara, Lady Castlemaine), with the compelling exception of King Charles. With Nell, David Sturzaker’s giddily libidinous Charles can begin to tentatively reveal that his chronic indecision is not a result of stupidity or indifference, but the searing, unfaded memory of his father’s execution, and his fear that any decisive action he takes will prove equally fatal. It’s not the most rousing defense of Charles’s legacy– but then again, as Nell herself says, who cares? She only troubles herself with the opinions of people she’s actually met. 

It’s this perspective that makes Nell Gwynn, at its heart, a love story: not just the romance of the King and the Orange-Girl, but the many loves of Nell herself– yes, the king, but also Charles Hart, also her family, also the theatre. Mbatha-Raw is effervescent and charming. She flirts like a master, but performs onstage with an almost self-consciously girlish glee. Her frank acceptance of who she is and what she has been is the source of both her power and her charm, and you never pause to wonder why every man who meets her seems to fall in love. 

The show combines to be much more than the sum of its parts. Propped up by excellent performances and sharp direction by Christopher Luscombe, Swale’s greatest success is in capturing a chaotic, spirited tone of an era and art in turmoil, eschewing strong political statements (save feminist ones) for weaving a web of characters’ rumors and opinions. The blurred lines between onstage and off, audience and actor, stage and court, jumble together to give the entire play an expansive, popular feel that suits the Globe perfectly. 

Also there’s a dog.

That Victorian Lady, the Globe, and Authenticity

Certain corners of the internet have been fascinated by a Vox post by Sarah A. Chrisman, a woman who claims that she and her husband live their entire lives in an accurately Victorian fashion. She never explains how they came by a Victorian-era computer for blogging, but she does indeed blog and has written several books detailing how they come by and live with their period-accurate clothes and technology.
There have been a lot of really interesting pieces discussing the family, mostly negatively. Chrisman’s idolization of the Victorian era seems either cheerfully blind to, or disturbingly accepting ofthe sexist, racist, imperialist aspects of 19th century English culture. She also claims that she and her husband are historians (which they are, somehow) and that their Victorian reenactment is actually a large-scale research project, an experiment which has allowed them more authentic access to the period they study.
Questions about the place of reconstruction and reenactment are continually hovering in the air at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, where I worked for the past seven months. The Globe now has two performance spaces: the Globe itself, occasional home to all-male ‘original practices’ (OP) productions; and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, modeled after the indoor theatres of the Jacobean period, and host of the Research in Action series, curated by scholars and intended to explore the interaction between Jacobean scenes and the theatre space. 
I’ve always loved history (and dressing up!) and the Victorian couple’s thinking brought to mind my own reasons for wanting to undertake the course of study at the Globe that I’ve just finished. I wrote in my admissions essay how seeing the Globe’s OP Twelfth Night had completely transformed my understanding of the play; I was sure that this transformation was because the production was all-male, in period costume and make-up, using period music and props. I hope it’s a credit to the program itself that I am now convinced it was only the sheen of authenticity that was so seductive (though it was still a great production). The most obvious example is the fact that I didn’t even see Twelfth Night at the Globe, I saw it on Broadway. My ‘authentic’ Jacobean experience was mediated through the 19th century American architecture, designed to facilitate theatrical experiences with goals very different from those of an early modern play.
But even if I had seen it at the Globe, we’d still have to assume that the Globe is a perfectly accurate reconstruction (which we can’t know if it is), and swap out Mark Rylance and Paul Chahidi for boys or young men (and how old or young, exactly, would they be?), and assume that the play had been staged and rehearsed in keeping with early modern rehearsal and staging practices (if we knew for certain what those were).
All of these ‘we just don’t knows’ are what these ‘authentic’ spaces and reenactments tempt us to be able to answer. Chrisman insists she can discover the truth of Victorian experience by wearing a corset and typing by oil lamp. Similarly, one of the many debates about the construction of the Globe has to do with the placement of the onstage pillars. During an interview I conducted, an actor at the Globe half-jokingly noted that he was pretty sure the pillars were in the wrong place: when I pressed him, he said more seriously that they just felt wrong, they didn’t complement his impulses as an actor. In his writings about the discovery of the Rose Playhouse, Sir Ian McKellan somewhat smugly points out that many features make perfect sense to an actor, like an apparent rake in the floor, or the fact that the stage faces the sun— but what about those that don’t, like the truly atrocious sightlines from the side galleries?
But as Slate’s really nice article puts it, ‘The “past” was not made up only of things. Like our own world, it was a web of social ties. These social ties extended into every corner of people’s lives, influencing the way people treated each other in intimate relationships; the way disease was passed and treated; the possibilities open to women, minorities, and the poor; the whirl of expectations, traditions, language, and community that made up everyday lives. Material objects like corsets or kerosene lamps were part of this complex web, but only a part.’ Wearing Victorian clothes and using Victorian furniture does not magically grant you insight into the era itself; to judge by Chrisman, it may well distract you from more critical, complex forms of intellectual engagement– including questioning how something as broad as the Victorian era (or the Jacobean, or the Elizabethan) could possibly be narrowed down to a single set of opinions and aesthetics.
Similarly, we are not an early modern audience. Thinking that we can watch a scene performed in a reconstructed space and use our opinions and impulses to recreate the way things were really done is to forget the most essential pieces of the puzzle: the culture, the society, the other plays we’d seen that week or in our lifetime, the things we’d read that morning, the gossip around town. The most conspicuous example in the case of early modern performance practice is the boy player: we will always find men playing women to be more unusual than an Elizabethan or Jacobean would have, and even then, we can’t really know how realistic or artificial they considered those performances to be.
 
It’s incredibly tempting to think that the right architecture or the right outfit can offer a shortcut to understanding a time period or a culture that we love. I am a huge fan of living history, and artifacts and reconstructions have immense value. But it’s dangerous (to good history, anyway) to forget that in many essential ways, we are not doing or seeing what Victorians and Elizabethans and Jacobeans did and saw.

(Also, just to be clear, however bad their historiography, nothing justifies some of the abuse and threats that Chisman reports receiving. That’s just awful.)

Review: Richard II

Richard II has long been sort of an article of faith with me, as far as Shakespeare plays go. I devoutly believed that it could be great, even though I had never actually seen any live evidence– and indeed, several instances which seemed determined to prove that the play was just inherently quite slow and boring in spite of the beautiful poetry, or (in the case of DruidShakespeare’s marvelous adaptation) could only succeed if significantly trimmed down. But I should have foreseen that if anyone could prove otherwise, it would be the director of the hugely delightful Beaux’ Stratagem, Simon Godwin, who is clearly having a very productive year, given that he has also just opened a gorgeous (and in my case, faith-affirming) production of Richard II at the Globe. 

 
I recently heard a director say that she has never produced Richard II because she works with an ensemble, and Richard II has nothing worthwhile for an actor besides the title role. This very often seems true; the major productions of the last few decades are inextricably paired with their lead actors: the Ben Whishaw Richard, the Fiona Shaw Richard, the David Tennant Richard. But Godwin has built his ensemble with performers so compelling, and allows every scene to fill with such engaging urgency, that for once the world of the play manage to expand beyond the long shadow of the King himself. 
 
A world over which he has wholly cast the shadow of his own sunlight is, of course, just what Richard likes to imagine: crowned at ten years old (in a beautiful opening sequence alternately featuring Thomas Ashdown and Frederick Neilson as the child Richard), Richard has grown up to be a giddy, self-centered monarch, certain that his crown and power are  his due by divine right and not things that must be upheld by steady rule, prudent spending, and politic dealings with his nobles. 
 
Charles Edwards as Richard is everything this complex role demands: frivolity mixed with sensitivity, a dazzling intellect that only gradually begins to creep out from behind the facade of entitled delusion. His delicate Richard is compelling even at the height of his vanity, and amply fills out the tragic dimensions of the latter scenes. It is a sensitive, nuanced performance.
 
Swanning around a dazzling gilt set, surrounded by a quartet of high-voiced favorites in satin and brocade, the implications of his aesthetic are inescapable, though not (as in many productions) ever made explicit. Indeed, he and Anneika Rose present one of the warmer potential versions of Richard’s relationship to his Queen, with the textually nameless French princess (called Isabel, after Richard’s historical queen, in the program) proudly taking her place amongst the giggling, whispering cloud of courtiers until suddenly left bereft by Richard’s departure and her own abrupt loss of position. 
 
Richard’s opposite and eventual rival is his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, a role that an article I read recently described as ‘completely thankless.’ But if this is its theatrical reputation, you wouldn’t know it to see David Sturzaker’s performance. His sharp, patient, and deeply feeling Bolingbroke defies the easy interpretations of his character as a quick-tempered proto-Hotspur or a ruthless Machiavellian climber. Godwin and Sturzaker suggest a Bolingbroke swept away in the strange current of shifting power that leads without any explanation from Bolingbroke publicly protesting he does not seek the crown, to Richard’s Queen overhearing by accident that her husband’s deposition is imminent. Where Richard is obsessed with pageantry, Sturzaker’s Bolingbroke is like a stage manager, continually delivering silent commands in the background through looks and gestures, a tendency which ultimately demands far closer attention from his subjects than Richard’s flamboyant performances ever did. But deep down, though it takes a quieter form, Bolingbroke is as determined as Richard that he end up the hero of his story, and movingly horrified when he realizes that that is not to be. 
 
This production makes the play feel more than it ever has for me like the story of three families, three branches of the family tree descending from the oft-invoked King Edward III: his last two living sons, John of Gaunt and the Duke of York, now patriarchs with sons of their own; and the necessarily fatherless King Richard, whose recklessness, flanked by York and Gaunt’s steadiness, draws continual attention to the skipped generation of rulership, the king who never was. While this structure makes sense textually, it rarely feels alive in performance; that it manages to do so is thanks to the stand-out performances of William Gaunt as Bolingbroke’s father John of Gaunt (yes, really), William Chubb as a scene-stealingly sarcastic and endearing Duke of York, and Graham Butler as his increasingly unsteady son Aumerle, Richard’s cousin and confidant, who seems to be an almost unwilling survivor of Richard’s fall. Sarah Woodward and Sasha Waddell also deserve mention for their refreshing interpretations of the Duchesses of York and Gloucester respectively, and for making so much of the little they are given. This is not a play that is very kind to actresses. 
 
In his famous speech in the penultimate scene of the play, the lonely, imprisoned Richard tries to ‘people this little world’ with his imagination. Very often, this is how the play itself feels: faintly drawn characters fluttering around Richard, who is himself the only real, full person onstage. But Godwin’s vision is more expansive– more history play than tragedy, many people’s stories rather than just the one. The result is a boisterous, generous production that is not afraid of letting laughter butt right up against tragic sincerity, or of letting other characters become as important as the lead, or of letting the sad story of the death of kings be genuinely enjoyable, too.