The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0943  Thursday, 4 April 2002

From:           Michael A. Morrison <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 4 Apr 2002 02:32:42 EST
Subject:        Kenneth Branagh's Richard III

I've just had an E-mail from Deborah Buckner, who journeyed from Kansas
to Sheffield with her husband and two young children to see Kenneth
Branagh's Richard III. With her kind permission I've pasted some of her
comments below.

Michael A. Morrison

Deb writes:

The production was very well done. One of Branagh's concerns in doing
the play was that he not hurt himself as past Richards have done in
emulating the hunchback. He and the director visited a back injury unit
of a hospital.  Talking with doctors, they determined that Richard
likely suffered from scoliosis. They studied medieval treatments of such
a spine condition and came up with a wonderful plan. The show (mostly
set in the medieval period with the use of a lot of smoke for atmosphere
and no scenery) opens with Richard (clad only in underpants) strapped on
a strange contraption on stage, part traction, part rack. The director
said in an interview that this type of device was used in the Middle
Ages and, for that matter, a similar design is still in use today.

Richard begins, "Now is the winter . . . ." Two attendants come and help
unstrap his hands and feet. He wriggles off the device to where his
clothes are carefully placed on the floor. One attendant moves to help
him, but the other slightly shakes his head. Thus, Richard's
helplessness and his struggle for independence are clearly established.
Writhing about on the floor, Richard wiggles into his pants, which have
a leg brace attached on the outside right leg. He then lies down in a
breastplate-like corset, with sleeves, the left tied at the end to hide
his arm. With much pain, he secures the four buckles of the corset.
Then, he can stand fairly straight and move freely. Thus, it is quickly
established that Richard is deformed, barely able to move, but with the
help of "modern" science, he can move freely (as befits one who has been
effective on the battlefield), and the actor can move normally without
the hunch and limp. When his little nephews tease him (the Duke of York
making the comment about Richard bearing him on his back), they strip
off his corset, and he is immediately immobilized.

Branagh was wonderful. The rest of the cast supported well. Lady Anne
was very young and very pretty and very much a "doe in the headlights"
performance. Gerard Horan gave the best Clarence I've ever seen. He was
kind and gentle, very much a prince even as he dealt with his murderers.
Upon learning Richard was behind the murder, he demonstrated total
devastation.  Another great performance was Danny Webb as the Duke of
Buckingham. I have to confess Buckingham is one of my favorite
characters from Shakespeare, and I judge a production of Richard III by
Act III, scene vii. He and Branagh were wonderful as they plotted and
carried out their ruse to make the townspeople cry for Richard to be

The two princes were well played. Edward was a bit older than I've seen
in other productions, played by a fifteen-year-old. That helped a lot, I
think.  He very much had the air of a future king about him. In the
dream/ghost sequence, Richard was again strapped to his contraption for
sleeping. The ghosts walked around it, sometimes grabbing it and pushing
it back and forth or spinning it around. The little princes climbed on
it, swinging, like a monkey bars set. It was a very moving scene.

By the way, my son [age eleven] said he enjoyed the acting in Richard
III, but didn't like the play. This was his first experience with a
villain as protagonist. "People were laughing," he complained. "Richard
was telling his brother how much he loved him and would help him, then
he turned around and had him killed. That's not funny. That's terrible."
He then added, "I liked Henry V. Then you know who the good guys are."

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