Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ireland (and an answer)

So, today I said my farewells to the little flat I like to stay at in London.  Sniffle.  

But, on the serious plus side, I'm now in Ireland!  County Clare to be precise.  Although the flight itself was an hour, when you add in all the transit time, and the waiting around time (and the watching people at Heathrow paw through my parents' carry-ons time), we pretty much checked in the hotel, had dinner, and retired to our rooms for getting ready for the tour.  It starts tomorrow at 1:00, which is nice, but the next day, we have to be all packed with our bags ready to go at 7:00 a.m., so I'm planning to get up somewhat early tomorrow just to start getting used to it.  It's vacation and all, but the hours are a bit ... well, it isn't exactly leisurely.

Going back to yesterday's post, someone (hi!) inquired if I thought Martin Freeman actually could have pulled off Richard III in the hands of a better director.  I do.  Let me go find my critic hat for a minute...

OK, here's the thing.  It would all go to shit if he just didn't have a facility with Shakespeare or a clean delivery.  Not a problem here.  He understands the text and puts it over.  Which means it's all just down to characterization.

Now, I've probably seen more versions of Richard III than any other Shakespeare play.  I have seen quite a few Richards and I know there are plenty of ways to approach the role, all of which can be made to work.  I've seen Richards who are elegantly evil, sort of your classic British villain, who has an intellectual superiority to everyone around him, and even if he's slitting your throat, he somehow would manage to not actually dirty himself with a speck of blood.  (I think that's your "go to" Richard -- it's what people generally think of when they imagine the character.  It's sort of where you expect Cumberbatch will go with it -- because that's so easy for him to do.)  But that's not, by far, the only way you can do a successful Richard.

I've seen a reptillian Richard, who so oozed across the stage, I was actually surprised that I didn't see a trail of slime behind him.  I've seen a spider-like Richard, cold and calculating in the center of his web, and occasionally bursting forth with a frightening attack of speed and power.  I've seen Richard as a playful scamp -- a man, slight of frame, who rather effectively manipulated people because they thought so little of him, they didn't see it coming.  I've seen Richards with an insatiable taste for power and Richards who schemed for the crown because they were bored and didn't have anything better to do.  And all of them, all of them, worked.  (Thank you, Mr. Shakespeare.)  They all brought the text to life with a complete characterization that dominated the theatre (even if the character didn't have a dominating presence).  Power can come in many different forms, and even an utter wimp who makes people do his will out of misplaced pity can be a magnetic Richard.  It is, without putting too fine a point on it, kind of hard to fuck up.

The director of the instant production took a tack which, upon reflection, I'm not entirely certain could ever work.  What he went with was a setting in which everyone was corrupt, everyone was selfish, everyone was evil, and Richard was just a teensy bit better at it than everyone else.  This wasn't a Richard III in which Richard was a bastard playing all the innocents around him (and Margaret was the only one who saw it); it was a Richard III in which you didn't actually feel bad for any of Richard's victims, because they all sort of deserved it (either by their own corruption or terminal stupidity).  I don't think any actor could have made this work.  There was nothing inherently wrong with Freeman's performance.  His Richard was smug, manipulative, capable of vicious violence, utterly bereft of humanity (and, ultimately, losing his grip on sanity).  That's a perfectly workable approach to the character -- it just died because he was surrounded by a lot of other people who were similarly scummy.  There was no contrast, nothing to make him stand out.  He seemed to actually have the audience on his side, because we didn't see anything redeeming in anyone, and he was at least playful about it.  But that, when you get right down to it, makes for a really disappointing Richard III.  

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