Neil Sheppeck On ... Taking Richard III to the Tower
When we began researching the play in 2009 I visited the Tower of London and as I wandered around, the locations of each scene came alive in my head. I could visualise The White Tower looming overhead as Clarence was led to his imprisonment, as Elizabeth mourned for her children, as Richard schemed and plotted his ascent to the crown. It struck me then, just how electric it would be to perform this play in the grounds of this spectacular palace/prison with history seeping out of its every pore! But would it be possible?
Our production, directed by Ben Kidd, first opened at Riverside Studios in February last year for an eight week run, then we took it on tour in September, a tour which has taken the play to over 20 venues in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Eire and continues until 22 March 2011. All the time we were planning and negotiating to perform the final dates of the tour at the Tower.
Historic Royal Palaces who run the Tower were extremely enthusiastic from the outset and we really couldn’t have got to this stage without them being prepared to go that extra mile to help us. But for this project to take place, there were many logistical challenges to conquer.
For example, each night, the Yeoman Warders and military guard lock the outer gates of the Tower and deliver the keys to the Resident Governor. This ceremony has been taking place on each and every night, without fail, for at least 700 years, and obviously our production cannot interrupt this procedure, symbolising the safety of the Monarch and Crown Jewels, so we needed to time the performance so that the Ceremony of the Keys occurs during our second half, and thus isn't disturbed.
From a practical point of view The Tower doesn’t have the facilities to sell our tickets so we are grateful to Waterloo East Theatre, (where we shall be performing Richard III’s touring partner production Accidental Death of an Anarchist) for providing box office facilities.
As the Tower is still open to the public on our performance days we can’t begin to rig the set, lighting and sound etc until 6pm and we can’t leave it up for the second night. So each night we need a very large team to load everything in, then effectively build a theatre space from scratch in just one hour.
After such an extensive tour that has visited many different types of venues, providing vastly varying facilities (and sometimes theatre managers actually read the contract requirements!) the company is used to adapting the staging of the play. ‘Days off’ have been spent with Ben and the cast re-developing the play for the particular demands of the Tower.
We can’t have raked seating, so we’ll be performing the play with the audience on all sides – just like the first staging at Riverside Studios. This will create an intimacy that combined with the site-specific nature of the performance will result in a unique theatrical experience - surely one of the most appropriate site specific pieces in theatrical history!
And we’ve promised not to scare off the Ravens!