Cape Town audiences may remember Jeremy Richard from when he first impressed in the supporting role of Ken, the art assistant to Mark Rothko, in the American playwright, John Logan’s Red, alongside his father, Michael Richard. This time he steps onto the Theatre on the Bay stage in his first professional Shakespearean role as, among other characters, Laertes in Hamlet.
This is an interesting character to be gifted with as a first professional meeting with the Bard, seeing as Laertes ultimately orchestrates Hamlet’s end, as they both have a murdered father in common, but also (amidst the debate that Shakespeare borrowed many of his characters and stories from other, earlier authors) is one of the few characters said to be completely a creation of the Bard, as at the time of Hamlet’s writing, there was no source reflecting a like character.
So naturally, one needs to get to know more about the young actor that takes on the role of Laertes in the latest offering of Hamlet as presented by Abrahamse and Meyer Productions at Theatre on the Bay this April. The productions brings to stage Hamlet as it was ‘imagined’ in the first recorded non-European production of thereof (while the Bard was still alive), by sailors on a merchants ship the Red Dragon, off the east coast of South Africa.
More than 400 years after his death, Shakespeare’s plays still enthrall audiences regularly, worldwide. “Shakespeare deals with timeless themes”, says Jeremy, “such as love, betrayal, friendship, and revenge. A lot of audiences feel that the language can be daunting, but once your ear becomes used to it, it's surprising how much you understand.”
But there are many tales of the Bard that would perhaps have been the easier choice to ease into the iambic pentameter of one of his most famous plays. So what drew Jeremy to Hamlet specifically? “The chance of being able to be part of a Shakespeare production is rarely offered to actors in this country. So when Fred offered me an audition, I jumped at the chance” he honestly reveals his eagerness to make a professional Shakespearean play part of his repertoire. This staging, being a production with an all-male cast of only 6 performers also has the added allure of allowing versatility of performance. “I don't only play Laertes, I play three other roles as well. All different and all challenging. I think an actor's experience only helps him or her grow and learn from role to role”, Jeremy adds.
This is however not Hamlet as you know it in its original form. Set on a ship as performed by amateur actor mariners, Jeremy reveals that “in true postmodern treatment, it’s been reframed”, while still staying true to its essence. “I think it allows for both new audiences and the most loyal fans to enjoy our interpretation. Both audiences will be able to expedience a new interpretation of the Bard’s work that doesn't take anything away from the play itself.”
Billed as a multi-sensory experience, it must bring something else, something very different to the stage then too? “Isn't all theatre a multi-sensory experience?” Jeremy insightfully joshes, “that being said, the set design allows for a very visceral experience for the audience”. One can also only imagine the added magic music by Charl-Johan Lingerfelder brings to such an unique ship-like setting.
Along with that “this is a very ensemble focused production. It’s been wonderful working so closely with everyone”. But apart from a great cast who clearly gel well, as they have already performed this production at the NAF and taken it to the 2016 Craiova International Shakespeare Festival in Romania too for the Shakespeare Festival, this is yet another opportunity for Jeremy to share the stage with his father, Michael Richard who takes on the role of King Claudius. “Brilliant. Working with my father is amazing”, Jeremy exclaims. “He is unbelievably talented, but what I love most is he doesn't treat me any differently to any other actor. It's about the work.” Growing up this theatre connection with his father, also left him a sober, pragmatic performer. “I had no illusions as to how difficult the life of an actor is. So when I decided to study acting, I knew what I was getting into.” Actually, Jeremy was already onstage from a very early age, with his earliest performance memory being that of “playing Violet Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in primary school. It's my passion. I'm so fortunate that my my job is my passion!”
You can see Jeremy Richard in Hamlet at Theatre on the Bay from 12 to 29 April 2017, alongside Marcel Meyer (Hamlet), Michael Richard, Dean Balie (Polonius and Horatio), Matthew Baldwin (Ophelia) and Callum Tilbury (Queen Gertrude), as the crew of the Red Dragon. Tickets at Computicket.