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Richard and the McKellen treatment…

OK, I know it’s great theatre (apparently) but I do NOT like Richard III to be updated to ‘modern’ times. So the thought of Sir Ian McKellen and his bus doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. I still think that Shakespeare should be played as he was meant to be, i.e. in 16th-century costume. Many will not agree with me, of course, but it’s how I feel. So the locations won’t appeal either. Nothing to do with Richard III, in my opinion.

Sir Ian McKellen



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9 thoughts on “Richard and the McKellen treatment…

  1. sighthound6 on said:

    Given this was supposed to be set in Britain, I don’t get why he is wearing what is clearly a German military uniform. Presumably a reference to the Nazis. How naive! Our own fascists happily wear British uniforms (or suits), and feldgrau has historically been worn (and still is) by many decent German soldiers. The Nazi party uniform colours were actually brown.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Linda Camidge on said:

    I expect it was to clearly signal that this is an alternative 1930’s.

    Personally I love the film and find 20th century settings very powerful (a recent stage production with a notable fishtank – sorry, somewhere in London I think but can’t remember where – was also compelling).

    I think McKellan is spot on in his observation on the effect of costume: we don’t even notice whether one character has a bigger ruff or flashier hat than another, but use 1930s costumes and we can instantly differentiate them in terms of class, beliefs and personality: a great tool for the director.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. halfwit36 on said:

    Played as it was meant to be? With boys playing the women’s roles?
    Frankly, a Richard in trunk hose, as he would have been portrayed in Shakespeare’s time, doesn’t much appeal either.

    Liked by 2 people

    • viscountessw on said:

      OK, point taken. Let’s just say I’d prefer Shakespeare to be played in the period it was meant to be. Romans in togas…Richard III looking late fifteenth century.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Richard III and the other characters in the Shakespeare’s history plays almost certainly did not look late 15th century. They looked late 16th century. Ditto Romans – they were not in togas, they were all in 16th century costumes. Ditto Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, any character from a Shakespeare play. It was custom to perform in the costumes of the day, and nobody cared about any historical or geographical accuracy. Shakespeare sure didn’t care about it in his writing, either, so you get things like Richard III referencing Machiavelli, or Romans talking about clocks.

        With that in mind, performing a Shakespeare’s play in modern clothing is, in fact, the closest you can get to performing it “as it was meant to be”. Because that’s exactly what the Elizabethan/Jacobean theatre companies were doing.

        “Richard III” with McKellen does something a bit different as it makes the story a period piece in a way, staging it in the 1930s rather than the 1990s when the film was made, but it also makes it alternate history. I’ve always thought this was a great choice, since it underscores the fact that the play itself is practically a piece of alternate history since it has so little to do with what what actually happened. There’s a great essay written by McKellen and posted on the film’s official website, which basically says exactly that – that the play is a great piece of fiction but is completely historically inaccurate and that Shakespeare’s Richard is completely different from the real Richard, and that making it an alternative history story set in a time period somewhat – but not too – removed from the present (1930s, rather than the 15th century) makes sense as this is practically what the play was for the Elizabethans (taking place around 100 years earlier, unlike, say, the Roman plays or Hamlet or Macbeth).

        I really liked the film in general – they did a really good job with staging it as a mix of a political thriller and satire, where even the ridiculously OTT things that are present in the text are often made to work due to the touch of a black comedy. And you have to laugh at the meta moments such as Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville being portrayed as an Edward VIII/Wallis Simpson analogues, which is ironic as they were the Nazi sympathizers in real life.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. viscountessw on said:

    OK, OK, let me rephrase it again. I think the plays should be performed to appear like the centuries in which they are set. I cannot be shifted on this. I simply do not like any theatrical, arty-*arty messing around. Richard III should look like Richard III, not some Fascist dictator from the 20th century. And Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra should look like their time and place as well. Men should be played by men (because their characters are men) and women should be portrayed by women for the same reason. No boys dressed as women, no matter how much they did that in the 16th century. The plays aren’t set in the 16th century, are they? Honour thy time, place and actual people! So that’s my final comment. My mulish heels have dug well in. Oh, and one final thing. Richard’s horse should NOT be played by two blokes in a pantomime costume.

    Liked by 2 people

    • But Shakespeare’s Richard III already doesn’t look like Richard III. Shakespeare’s Richard III has a hunchback, a withered arm and a limp and says that he’s so ugly that dogs bark at him because of his monstrous ugliness (I’m pretty sure dogs will bark at people regardless of what they look like, but anyway). (He’s also probably quite a bit older than the real Richard III, since he was old enough to kill Somerset in 1455.) It’s impossible to have Richard III in the play looking like the real Richard III without causing serious dissonance between what is shown and what is said in the text.

      Liked by 1 person

    • halfwit36 on said:

      John Ashdown-Hill says Richard’s horse was maybe not a white horse at all. So let’s get a colorless or transparent horse.
      Mind you, I can see that any kind of horse might be a problem in a stage production. Movies are another matter.

      Liked by 1 person

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