Scene It: Dramatic tragedy in comedy with Richard III

February 16, 2019

Alan Committie and Geoffrey Hyland have done a splendid job in editing Shakespeare’s classic Richard III to a condensed version of two hours, while respecting its plot and retaining the much-loved lines associated with this villainous tragic tale. In this form, it graces the stage of the majestic Maynardville Open-Air Theatre as this year’s ode to The Bard until 9 March 2019.

 

Richard III tells the tale of the deformed Duke of Gloucester, and his determination to get his hands on the crown of England. With Richard, the villainous protagonist, as the focal point of this tale, the narrative is an exploration of his twisted mind as he bloodily orchestrate this feat.

 

Dramatically impressive scenes throughout this year’s Maynardville offering carries a clear Hyland aesthetic stamp and is theatrically very pleasing to the eye. His direction of Richard III is a balanced meeting of the minds with Committie’s take on the title character.

Committie’s crafty portrayal of Duke-turned-King is not your standard Richard III interpretation. He has very distinctively made this classical role his own. He savvily merges the tragic wit of his character with comic guile —the audience appeal of Committie’s Richard lies thus in the fact that the murderous jester has made the crown his quest. Albeit in a bit of a darker setting than his fans are accustomed, quintessential (though subtler) Committie expressions and hyperbolic pauses are turned Shakespearian in this staging of Richard III. These maneuverers are fully explored in the moments when Richard breaks the fourth wall to reveal his diabolical plan to the audience as the tragedy unfolds. To draw on Aristotle to describe the pivotal point of this staging of Shakespeare’s Richard III, what keeps it rooted in the realm of tragedy, even with that sense of comedy, is the plays tribute to "the emotions of pity and fear".

 

The cast is a mix of well-established thespians and newcomers, bringing an interesting energy to the onstage dynamics. John Maytham strides onto the stage with the air of a man born into his role, while Anthea Thompson and Lee-Ann van Rooi leaves one speechless with their respective portrayals as Queen Margaret and the Duchess of York. The talents of Andrew Laubscher (Duke of Birmingham), Sanda Shandu (Richmond) and David Viviers (Lord Hasting) are also put on display, with Shandu contributing greatly to the dramatic energy of the final stand-off in this play.

The set design by Hyland and Bridie Bird is inspired as an up-cycled, understated canvas that serves its purpose perfectly for the unfolding of the plot. The sound design by Hyland and Bernard Kotze further plays to the strengths of the park-setting of the open-air theatre, with the natural rustling of Maynardville leaves merging beautifully with their design concept.

 

The costume design (by lllka Louw and Alicia Wallace, with the assistance of Leigh Bishop and the UCT Drama Department) draws well on the grimness of the tale with its striking, predominantly black and grey colour scheme, further emphasised by the dramatic contrasting touches of red as symbolic link to the blood from the heads manipulatively speared for Richard III during his tyrannical ascent to the throne.

You can see the tragedy of Richard III unfold as part of the 2019 Maynardville Open-Air Festival until 9 March 2019. Tickets are available online through Computicket.

 

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