When I saw that a new musical called THE HAUNTING OF RICHARD III was on at the Merlin Theatre in Frome, a mere 40 minutes away, how could I resist? I realise musical theatre is a bit of a ‘marmite’ subject for many, but in my own misspent youth, yes, I confess I tread the boards in such glorious spectacles as ‘Poof Poof’s Magic Forest, ‘ ahem. But I digress…
The Haunting of Richard III took place at the Merlin Theatre in Frome, an open air amphitheatre surrounded by huge standing stones rather resembling those at Avebury. The creator and producer were Martin and Anne Dimery, and the actors from the Kairos Theatre Company.
The Richard portrayed here was definitely not Shakespeare‘s, although a few of the Bard’s ‘inventions/exaggerations’ were still apparent, such as a limp and a dodgy arm. No hump though. I’d have preferred to see just a ‘slightly raised right shoulder’ and no limping, but I suspect the producers did not want the character to be unrecognizable to an audience who probably had no idea of the other side of the story.
The action starts on the night before Bosworth, with a bevy of ‘ghosts’ appearing to a troubled Richard as they do in Shakespeare’s play. Clad in grey misty robes with skull faces, they were truly pretty terrifying, and they carried a pair of puppets of the “Princes“, which they flipped around to reveal two skeletons!
From there, however, the show takes a different direction, with Richard, speaking with a northern accent, shown to be a good lord, much loved in the north and loyal to his brother Edward. The Woodvilles are depicted as power-hungry schemers, as is the coldly determined Margaret Beaufort (amusingly, the actress playing her had a dual role as a town prostitute!) Buckingham appears in all his pompous glory, wearing a very telling golden shirt–he is (unintentionally) the funniest character, and I rather imagine not far off the mark in regards to the real Buckingham’s ambitions. It was nice to hear Eleanor Talbot‘s name mentioned when the pre-contract was brought up, too–although the characters did not seem to know who her father, late Earl of Shrewsbury was–as we know, he was a famous war hero (which makes it even less likely Richard would just randomly pick his daughter’s name from thin air). Catesby features, a rather villainous character (oddly), but there’s no Francis Lovell and Hastings/ Stanley are mentioned but never appear on stage. You can’t have everyone I suppose.
Richard’s son, Edward of Middleham, gets quite a few mentions, including his investiture as Prince of Wales. There are tense scenes of grief between Anne and Richard when their son dies, and a rift grows between them as Richard realises the crown has brought him no joy. It is always made very clear that the choices he made in 1483 came about owing to the power vacuum created when Edward IV died and not because he had some kind of untoward plans to grab power since the day he was born with, you know, all that hair and all those teeth…(cough.)
The final battle at Bosworth Field finally takes place and the ghosts from the past return to carry Richard’s body away to Leicester. Henry Tudor is lurking on the battlefield, smug and grinning, and he picks up the song that Richard was singing as he died, serenading the crown he has taken from the fallen king–‘It’s you who made me what I am.’ Implying that for all Richard may or may not have done, his successor was not some ‘saviour’ but driven by his own desire for the throne and willing to do anything to hold onto it.
photos by Dan Cyphus
- A VIDEO OF THE MUSICAL IS NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE
Story wise it at least sounds as if it’s heading in the right direction (apart from a couple of obvious things) but definitely an improvement.
I think I might just find the time to look for it on YouTube.
Thanks for the review.
I can only find Act 2 on youtube. Are both Acts up?
Both WERE. Perhaps the first act is now unavailable?