And indeed it is a winter of discontent. If Ireland’s current economic woes aren’t enough to deal with (yesterday’s Budget hits – and hurts – everybody), the sub-zero temperatures have most people wrapped up like Sand People from Star Wars (unless of course you’re Polish; in which case you’re wearing shorts and breaking out the sun lotion). So when my friend Dennis suggested we go see a play at Dublin Castle, I said why not. If it’s not going to cost too much I’m there. As it turned out, there was no cost; the tickets were free. And as Dennis says, free is the best price of all.
The Fast and Loose Theatre Company was set up in 2009 “with the intention of producing Shakespeare in unusual and non-theatrical settings.” (This is taken from the programme for this evening’s performance.) And it was true to its word: the company staged on of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Richard III, in the former official Church of Ireland chapel of the Household of the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland from 1814 until 1922, when Ireland became a Free State. So basically, we were going to see a play in a church.
As it was when Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed, the audience were very close to the action. We sat in the centre of the chapel while the actors walked and ran up and down. Every entrance and exit was used, and at times, even spectators became part of the play, by way of gestures or hands on shoulders. It was an intimate presentation.
I know very little about Richard, other than he wasn’t a very nice person; a deformed madman (he was rumoured to be a hunchback) who murdered and plotted his way to the throne of England. Though his reign was mercifully short (1483 until his death in 1485), it was filled with incident, most notably for the murder of The Princes in the Tower. He was eventually defeated by the Earl of Richmond (who later became King Henry VII) at the Battle of Bosworth, and so ending the War of the Roses.
The play itself is one of Shakespeare’s longest. So in order to keep the running time at two and a half hours, the producer and directors pruned a fair amount of historical background. It was necessary, but if you were unfamiliar with the play (like me) and unsure about English history (again, like me), you might get lost (I’m saying nothing). But it was easy to put that aside because the production was so energetic. (I mentioned there was a lot of running around, didn’t I?) The young and talented cast, led by John Cronin as Richard, oozed vibrancy and enthusiasm. It was hard not to get wrapped up in their characters’ dilemmas. In fact, a number of the cast held down more than one role (which was handy if you were murdered early in the production). I give a special mention to Eva Bartley, who played Queen Elizabeth. As the main female lead (no disrespect meant to Margaret MacAuliffe, Denise McCormack or Camille Rose – each gave full-blooded performances), Bartley stole each scene she was in and I felt her conflict when Richard demanded her daughter as his new wife (he murdered his first wife, Anne). I thought she was stunning, and she and Cronin were the lynchpins of this deep and complex play.
Not that it was all blood and guts; there was an element of comedy to it, too. The cast interpreted the Bard’s language expertly, complete with knowing asides to us, the audience. There were laughs to me had, amid the murdering and scheming. Two and a half hours flew by.
My friends and I left the Chapel Royal very much energised by what we’d witnessed. We bade each other goodnight and went our separate ways. I waited for my bus home, in the freezing cold, and knew that I would have given my kingdom for a horse.
Thank you for reading – and thank you Fast and Loose Theatre Company.