Saturday, 5 April 2014

Scrawny Cat Theatre Company - Rose Theatre - Shakespeare's Richard III ****


By Mary Grace Nguyen
Richard III is about blood spill and a tragedy amongst the monarchy. Key themes like death and treachery of Shakespeare’s own Macbeth come to mind and with direction from Charlotte Ive of the Scrawny Cat Theatre Company only a small but unique presentation of Richard III is to be expected.
On a small stage overseeing the pit and courtyard of the original Rose theatre, the audience look onto a wooden stage with what looks like a black robe with a hand made metal crown and arm. Already the atmosphere is ominous. Jackets, satchels, cloths, and hats of different colours hang on the side and it is only 4 actresses, Rosemary Tross, Charley Willow, Victoria Allies and Marie Rabe who are left to demystify a condensed (90 minute) version of Richard III.
Dressed like Shakespeare himself with 15th century cavalry boots and white-laced blouses the actresses manage to play 20-30 roles seamlessly by putting on clothes and taking off clothes in a quick and snappy pace. The stage is a fast moving one with hats and satchels being thrown at each other to be on cue for the next character. No one is Richard and no one is Lady Anne. The actresses play everyone and this is what makes the play even more interesting as it is almost like a teasing guessing game encouraging the audience to ask, who will play Richard next?  
Ive’s production is a refreshing take on Shakespeare but not one for a passive audience. There are dynamic interactions, movements and quick changes into characters that an attentive viewer must listen and look out for. Noticing the change in voice and change in personality is tough but surprisingly these actresses pull it off considering the constraints and challenges of being in a play with no intervals or scenery changes. Also, Elizabeth Graham’s sorrowful singing added enough atmosphere to suggest the gloom of Richard III in a dark lit theatre proving that good theatre can be made by a handful of artistic people.
Particular scenes with great talent include Allies and Rabe showing the audience four characters at the same time with the help of Jo Lakin’s puppets. From Richard and Buckingham to two high-pitched young princes, one could tell it was not an easy job learning all those lines but successfully executed it without confusion or mistakes.
Other interesting scenes included Willow’s conniving and seductive Richard whilst trying to win over Rabe’s interpretation of an innocent and ‘puppy eye’ Lady Anne. Tross’ representation of an anxious and paranoid Richard in the final act dwelling over the array of souls he's murdered is so woeful that is it almost sympathetic.
Little is known about the Rose theatre (1587), but given its current condition of being under construction, presented with red rope lights indicating a pit and courtyard, it is not at an optimum state to show what it is fully capable of.
Once a center stage for Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, Shakespeare’s Henry VI and Titus Andronicus as a fifth purpose-built theatre in what was once one of London’s most attractive area for the underworld (of brothels, gaming dens and bull/bear- baiting arenas,) it was overtaken by the popular theatres, the Swan (1595) and the Globe (1599) and eventually abandoned. However, it was discovered again in 1989 during a site clearance and re-development project, which leaves us with a theatre reviving itself from the rubble.  

Ive asks us to consider who was Richard III besides the obvious, ‘notorious villain, child murderer, hated despot’ but there is little to sway our mind. Richard was the lowest of low - A spiteful and ruthless king. How the 4 actresses portrayed him mattered very little to the audience. As the play progressed and Richard's character was played in different guises, the audience learnt to despise Richard more and more. "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!" is a significant quote as Richard's last dying words in the play. As Patroclus would say in Shakespeare’s play 'Troilus and Cressida', I say Good riddance!