Richard III, St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden – Review

 

#Tweetingit – review in 140 characters: 4* Winter of discontent + my kingdom for a horse = Richard III alfresco style.

 

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The Iris Theatre could not have picked a better home than St Paul’s Church for their interactive, immersive approach to Shakespeare’s work. Built by stage designer Inigo Jones, the church has a sense of majesty that naturally lends itself to the gripping tale of Richard III. With its combination of historical fact and dramatic licence, the story reads like a Hollywood blockbuster complete with roman numerals in its title. However, a movie scriptwriter would struggle to invent such a heady mix of ambition, betrayal and revenge.

The action begins with the final scene from Henry VI Part 3 where Prince Edward, heir apparent is slaughtered at the Battle of Tewkesbury. This sets in motion a train of events charting Richard’s pursuit of power and ultimately, the throne of England. The audience are led through the gardens to view individual scenes as the story develops. Much of the action takes place in front of the main church doors with teasing glimpses of a wonderful interior. The story cranks up a gear with the death of Edward IV and accession of his 12 year old son Edward. Richard is charged with care of his nephews, the uncrowned Edward V and younger brother Richard. With the Princes safely ensconced in the Tower, Richard machinates with cohorts Sir William Catesby, Duke of Buckingham and Lord Stanley. The audience enter the church to eavesdrop their deliberations. The interior has an awe inspiring splendour that lets us believe we are in 15th Century London; unlike exterior scenes, where passing jets and car alarms annoyingly break the atmosphere.

Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville is soon declared invalid, leaving his successors without right to the throne. Seemingly, there is nothing standing in the way of Richard’s kingship. He is crowned in 1483 and the Princes mysteriously disappear from the Tower. However, storm clouds are gathering as fragile alliances crumble and Richard faces rebellion. As the sun set on a perfect summer evening we were summoned to encampment at Bosworth. Richard prepared to do battle with the army of Henry Tudor, his rival to the throne. The audience became Richard’s warriors as he issued a clarion call to arms. We all rushed to view the exciting fight scenes. I suddenly thought, where’s my sword? I want to give Henry Tudor a good thrashing! Assuming he was the bad guy? In such turbulent times how could anyone judge when the lines of morality continually blurred. Richard is one of the most misrepresented figures in British history and continually divides opinion. However, history can only be as truthful as the person writing it. Richard was no better or worse than his contemporaries.

The cast was magnificent in their respective roles, unfazed by heavy costumes which must have been stifling in the heat. David Hywel Baynes was excellent as the scheming, murderous Richard. By curious paradox, he was also quite likable, enjoying a lively rapport with the audience. Some of the cast doubled up in cross gender roles. For example, Mark Hawkins was particularly good as the cocksure Sir William Catesby and truly scary spectre of Queen Margaret; Dafydd Gwyn Howells was a commanding Henry VI and matronly Duchess of York. Space doesn’t allow me to name check the entire cast but Laura Wickham was mesmerising as Queen Elizabeth, grieving for her lost Princes.

My only real qualm concerned seating arrangements in the performance area. There was invariably a mad scramble as the show moved around the venue. People jostled each other for the best seats which seemed unnecessary. Staff set out deck chairs as it became obvious that older members of the audience needed to sit down. Patrons lugging bags of shopping around seemed to further exacerbate the problem.

The Iris Theatre deserve a massive hi-five for making Shakespeare sexy. Some might say it always has been, but this show makes the Bard’s work just that bit more accessible. An excellent programme also provides a much needed aide memoire to a tangled period of Britain’s history. At 3 hours 20 minutes, Richard III is Shakespeare’s second longest play. I didn’t notice the time until the show finished – that’s the hallmark of a great production. 

Author: William Shakespeare

Director: Daniel Winder

Producer: Tara Finney

Box Office: 020 8144 1898

Booking link: http://www.iristheatre.com/Contents/IrisShows/NewStylePage/richard-iii/richard-iii.html#tickets

Booking until: 25 July 2014

 

 

 

 

Rhiannon Reflects on…immersive theatre

#Tweetingit – Rhiannon’s reflections in 140 characters

Immersive theatre – however we got so immersed, give it a go, there’s something out there for everyone

I blame Deirdre Rachid. What was is about that storyline that got the nation so riled up and wanting to actually get involved in the show?

Over the last decade or so, we have been given control over all forms of entertainment which we partake in. We vote for the next pop stars, the next person to appear on the Royal Variety Show, what dish someone is going to have cooked for them or the outcome of a storyline on a soap. Computer games “remember” the decisions you make and these decisions affect what experience the player has in the next edition of that game.

Just like in these games, in immersive theatre, everyone can have a different experience depending on how much is expected from them and how much they are willing to put into it. Every person who plays these games, has a slightly different experience.

Has it been decided, or have we decided, that we must have control, some sort of interaction, over the entertainment we are enjoying? We must be completely immersed in it, we can’t just sit back and watch what is going on in front of us.

When I was younger, there were much more simple versions of this immersive style -“pick your adventure” books – “turn to page 15 if you want to take the blue drink, turn to page 84 for the red one.” And then the drama unfolds depending on your choice. I was always concerned, however, that the more exciting option was available on the other route. Is this the problem with immersive theatre too? What if you choose “incorrectly” and you don’t see the best. Would it be better for a writer to tell you what the “right” option is and let you experience it?

Now, I have to say, I love immersive theatre and, in my book, there isn’t enough of it, but I do understand why some people don’t. You never know what you’re going to be faced with, how much you will be expected to do or to what extent you will be immersed. Youmebumbumtrain have done a show where you are the star; going around the rooms on your own and experiencing various different situations; being interviewed, running an exercise class, getting thrust into a working kitchen. What is the theme, the story, the point? What if the situation you are faced with, completely throws you?

I guess it depends on the type of immersion you experience.

Immer_city immersed their audience in their show, Wyrd, weeks before the “real” performance began. Facebook and Twitter profiles were set up for the characters, “pre show” events such as hen and stag do’s as well as false websites with clues about what you were going to experience. And then on the day, the performance began in the pub, meeting the cast to have your palms read, learning the backgrounds of each of the characters – if you were willing to question them.

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It wasn’t necessary to have read everything or even to throw yourself in at the deep end and join in fully in the performance, but it certainly helped and really made for a fantastic couple of weeks of entertainment.

My review of Wyrd: http://the-void.co.uk/theatre/wyrd-487/

http://www.immer-city.com/wp/

The Drowned Man has been incredibly well received but there are still a handful of people who just don’t get it – possibly not helped by the fact that one person might say that they were involved in a naked rave, that they found the roof top bar, that they were hurried away into a caravan to watch someone put their make up on.…. and yet what did you see? None of this? How can you possibly have got the same experience, did you miss some of the show, something important which made the whole thing make sense?

Some immersive/promenade shows just ask you to walk around and look into theatre spaces and watch what is unfolding. The immersive bit here is just that you are moving around. This was the case at St Pauls Church in Covent Garden where Iris Theatre put on various shows including “Alice in Wonderland” and “Julius Caesar”

My review of Julius Caesar : http://everything-theatre.co.uk/2013/07/julius-caesar-st-pauls-church.html

http://www.iristheatre.com/

So what are we in for next, how can these companies go even further? Upcoming immersive shows include an overnight performance of Macbeth where the audience get to eat with the Macbeths, sleep in their rooms and watch as the story unfolds overnight. Rehearsals have begun and everyone who is going has started to receive their passports for the event. There are still some tickets left and I truly think this is going to be one of the most interesting immersive shows that there has been for sometime. Get your tickets before its too late. http://macbeth.in/collections/Macbeth and follow them with #RiftMacbeth on Twitter.

Also, part of the Festival of Theatre (LIFT 2014) is  “Roof”. Occupying a purpose-built ‘panoramic performance space’ on top of the car park opposite the National Theatre, it has been conceived by the mastermind of the incredibly successful “Ring”, David Rosenberg. Ring used clever panoramic headphones to create an incredibly unique  and almost  hallucinogenic experience, and set completely in the dark. Roof is set to be just as exciting.

My review of “Ring” http://www.whatsonstage.com/off-west-end-theatre/reviews/03-2013/ring_868.html

So back to the start of this reflection, to explain my first comment. I don’t know when this immersive theatre malarkey began. What it with Deirdre Rashid going to prison in 1998 in Coronation Street? “Free Deirdre” placards and protests being carried out by viewers. They wanted to get completely involved, have a say in what happened and immerse themselves in the storyline. Have we created this phenomena of immersive theatre ourselves?

deirdre-rachid

Some people think theatre is becoming “too immersive” whatever that means. I have to say, I disagree. There is still plenty of “straight” theatre out there if that’s what you want and you needn’t attend these sorts of shows if they aren’t for you. Don’t like ballet? Don’t go. This is exactly the same – just another genre of theatre. As I said, I absolutely love immersive/promenade theatre and think everyone should at least give it a couple of tries. I cannot wait for my next installment (Rift’s Macbeth)

Let me know what you think.