New ‘sensitive’ production of Shakespeare’s Richard III to be staged at Leicester Cathedral in July
A London-based theatre company has announced a new staging of William Shakespeare’s play Richard III at Leicester Cathedral – which is now home to the medieval king’s remains.
Leicester Cathedral will host the play on Wednesday 19 and Thursday 20 July, and while the location may raise some eyebrows the theatre company has promised a ‘sensitive’ production. Shakespeare’s play famously depicts Richard III as a disfigured, vicious and lying sadist, but Ben Horslen of the Antic Disposition theatre company said:
We will need to be sensitive, but I think it is a good opportunity to open up a discussion
We do need to be careful. It is possible there are people who are not going to like it, there are people who don’t always like anything done in cathedrals other than worshipping.
I think it is interesting to use these spaces in different ways and to encourage people to engage with different kinds of art in them.
A poll conducted last year of British historians and the general public found that Richard III was the most fascinating historical figure, so there is certainly still a lot of interest in the last Plantagenet king who was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.
The poll was no doubt influenced by the high profile discovery of Richard III’s remains under a car park in Leicester city centre in 2012, and the worldwide interest the reburial ceremony attracted three years later.
Despite this though, Richard III has always held a certain fascination – not least because of Shakespeare’s iconic play. Something not lost on Horslen, who see’s it as all the more reason to perform the play at the cathedral now he is actually buried there:
We now have an interesting chance to look at the historical Richard alongside the theatrical one.
The best way to be sensitive about it is to be very clear that this is Shakespeare’s version. It is a theatrical rendition of a character, not a historical one.
In response to the planned production, Richard III Society spokesman Richard van Allen said he was “surprised” at the plan, but admitted that it sounded “interesting”. It all depends on how sensitively Richard III is portrayed, said van Allen, who criticised Kevin Spacey’s stereotypical portrayal when he was the artistic director at the Old Vic in London:
There he was on stage with a huge hunchback, withered arm and a big metal brace on his leg he dragged round, which was not what Richard was about. He spent all his life fighting, he was really a soldier, he wasn’t this monster.
If is it is done sensitively in the cathedral and is a good version, I’m sure we would be happy with it.
As well as Leicester Cathedral, the July tour of Richard III will visit cathedrals in Ely, Peterborough, Gloucester, Bristol and Salisbury. In late August, it will be staged at Temple Church in London.