Dan and Giles are at Shakespeare's Globe to see the National Theatre of China perform Richard III in Mandarin in their first ever visit to the UK.
GILES: How it happened no one’s quite sure but somehow the Chinese National Theatre costumes got lost somewhere in Felixtowe. Needless to say someone back in Beijing is gonna be in for a shit-storm of trouble.
The Globe's artistic director Dominic Dromgoole comes out onto the stage and gives us the low-down before the show so already it feels like a special night.
DAN: The Globe have these burgers and hot dogs for sale that smell like heaven in the courtyard to the theatre. Between the meat juicing away and the oak beams you can imagine Shakespeare and Dick Burbage swinging around here back in the day gearing up to perform. The "Mick and Keef" of Elizabethan London. All that’s missing is a wench or two.
GILES: So no costumes. I like these kind of situations. No props. No set.
It forces everyone to go back to the story. How do you perform without
your comfort blankets? People have to use their imaginations, their
bodies in different ways.
Have you ever seen Richard III? Doubtless you’ve seen one of the films. Tough play. Lord This, the Earl of That, the Duke of So and So. All bickering over the crown. And in the middle of it all is Tricky Dick twinkling away while doing everyone in, grabbing the crown, the women, all the power for himself and installing his own heavies to knock on doors in the dead of night. If he were around today America would be plotting a regime change quick smart. Which is of course kinda what happens. Power gluttons always wake up screaming from the nightmares they have created. So once again Shakespeare spins his tale just right. He even gives Rich these deformities and physical corruptions to give us a clue as to the extent of his inner wars.
DAN: Your actor playing Richard must decide what kind of limp he’s
going to use. What kind of hump. Which hand to claw. But here’s the
weird thing: the actor in this production has neither hump, limp, claw
nor any physical deformity whatsoever. He is a rather handsome guy
with neat cropped hair and the physique of a martial artist.
As we sit
there I think, OK, he’s made one of two choices. Either he’s thought,
“Right, no costume- no limp. Fuck it, I’m just going to do it raw. All my
deformities are going to be of my soul.” Or it was a choice to present
Richard as he would like to see himself: handsome, attractive.
Either way he doesn't have the hump. It is an interesting effect though. It’s like if you despise someone it’s very easy to see them as any disgusting thing. Rupert Murdoch does kind of look like a vampire to me. What it shows is just how much hate there is flying around in that play. It’s aimed everywhere. And no one is safe. The Toffs are combusting.
GILES: You have to love the Globe. There is this woman behind us who tutts at the sky every time a plane flies over. Already it’s clear from this festival that there are only two universals in theatre: laughter and music. Here we find both. In beautiful abundance. Go anywhere on earth and the sound of laughter is the same, regardless of language. This Richard and his two tumbling, murderous goons make us laugh. One of the murderers has the habit of dropping in a word of English every now and then. Which of course makes the audience roar. Cheap, but good on him I think. Get it anyway you can my friend.
DAN: And it doesn't need us to say that music, bypasses the mind and
goes straight to the gut, spinal column, and heart. Tonight music is present throughout. Cymbals and drums and blocks punctuate and
accentuate- rumbling and anticipating Richard's every switch. Just one
musician. On the balcony. Helping to shift scene, location and
atmosphere with a roll of the cymbal. Even has a few lines to speak in
one of the scenes.
You know how at a rock concert the drummer usually gets the biggest roar? Well this is definitely one of those nights. The curtain call turns into a kind of revival meeting. The actors don’t want to leave and after all that killing and bile the Globe erupts into cheers and joy.