This past June, in anticipation of playing the role of Richard in our production of Richard III, actress Sarah Harlett took a discovery trip to England. She recorded her thoughts and observations of the monarch’s early life, the places he traveled and how there are widely differing views on this man whom Shakespeare portrayed as a villain.
Tower of LondonMedieval palace, home, fortress and prison. A lead toy soldier from the 1300’s told me it wasn’t strange for children to live at the Tower. Henry VI spent years in the Tower. His presumed murder is marked by a plaque in a lovely bright chapel. It reads “By tradition Henry VI was killed on this spot”. Much different from the dingy cell I imagined. George, duke of Clarence, Richard and Edward’s brother, was imprisoned at the Tower and executed for treason. George had switched sides and fought against his brother, Edward, with Warwick (the Kingmaker) early in Edward IV’s reign. The rumor is that he was drowned in a “butt of malmsey wine.” There’s writing scratched into the walls by various prisoners over the centuries. Prayers. Quotes. Names. Edward IV’s sons, Edward V and Richard (12 and 9 respectively), were placed in the Tower. For protection? For murder? Their illegitimacy was announced by bishop Robert Stillington claiming Edward IV was previously betrothed prior to Queen Elizabeth. Parliament, in 1484, pronounced Richard III king. Guides at the Tower of London point to the second window of the “Bloody Tower” and spookily tell you “That’s the last place the boys were seen before they were killed by their evil uncle, Richard III.” A plaque marks where skeletons of two children were found under stairs in 1674. However, new evidence suggests the skeletons couldn’t have been related to Richard III due to a dental anomaly found on the children’s skulls. If those skeletons weren’t the boys, where did those boys go? And who are those kids?
Childhood & Warwick CastleThe home of Warwick the “Kingmaker.” While Richard lived with Warwick and his family, from around age 12-16 at Middleham Castle, I visited Warwick Castle where he also visited. He met Warwick’s daughters Anne and Isabel at this time. He learned swordplay from Warwick. Edward IV gave Warwick money to do so. During his adolescence Richard also developed scoliosis. How painful was it and who knew of it? Adolescence is tough already. I imagine Richard must have looked up to Warwick- close ally of his father, Richard of York, and warrior who made his brother king. Warwick may have had plans for Richard and George to marry his daughters once Edward was crowned king. George married Isabel and joined sides with his new father-in-law, Warwick, in a revolt against Edward to put Henry VI back on the throne. What would it have done to Richard to discover Warwick and George were betraying his brother? At 16, he joined the armies fighting on Edward’s behalf. Warwick married Anne to Henry VI’s and Margaret’s son, Prince Edward.
The Bones!The extraordinary discovery of Richard’s skeletal remains in a car park in 2014, illuminated so much about the actual man. Scientist’s discovered:
- His scoliosis, while dramatic to look at, probably was hidden by his clothing. One shoulder may have looked a little higher. Likely, only people intimate with Richard would know about it.
- Richard would have stood about 5’8” tall, but his scoliosis made him appear much shorter.
- Richard had thin, “gracile bones” that would have looked more “delicate or feminine”.
Bosworth FieldThe actual field is private farmland now, but similar terrain surrounds it. At the time of the battle it would have been much the same. Hiking around, the grasses came up my waist. Imagine over 10,000 men fighting in close contact. Horses, halberds, pikes, swords. Mayhem! Richard had larger armies and more experience than Richmond. Several things went wrong. Stanley’s army never joined the battle. The vanguard was confused by a new pyramid formation attack. Richard’s army was situated by a marsh. Richard did get close enough to kill Richmond’s standard bearer, but some point after this, Richard was de-horsed and killed. Records from both sides state that Richard fought “valiantly” to the end. No cry for a horse. But was offered a horse that he refused. Interestingly, the guide at the Bosworth Heritage site, told us he had to sign a contract that he wouldn’t choose a side (Henry VII or Richard III) when telling the story.
YorkThe North Remembers. York loved Richard. The white rose of York was everywhere in the city. At Mickelgate Bar, a model of Richard Duke of York’s head with a paper crown sits on a pike. Queen Margaret had York’s head chopped off and placed atop of the gates of York with the paper crown to mock his claim to the throne. As Shakespeare put it: “Off with his head, and set it on York gates; So York may overlook the town of York.” Interesting that to this day there’s a display of the horror Margaret had done to York. Richard III and Anne married in 1472 a year after Prince Edward died. They often visited York. They had one son, Edward, who died at age 11. Anne died one year after her son’s death in 1484 from “a long illness.” Noted at York museum: “King Richard III’s popularity in York was such that Henry VII’s emissary was afraid to enter the city.”
What to BelieveAfter the research, he’s even more fascinating to me. Where you are in England determines the story you are told. While this isn’t quite the story Shakespeare tells, it helps to think about an England constantly changing sides. Yorks/Lancasters vying for the throne. Who could you trust? Richard would have been 8 years old when his father was killed in the Battle of Wakefield. He would know Margaret displayed his father’s head and had his brother Rutland killed. His father-figure Warwick and his own brother, George, betrayed his family. His brother, the King, married commoner Elizabeth Woodville and granted titles and lands to her family instead of the gentry. His life was filled with tragedy. Fraught with conflict. With betrayals. Was he an evil tyrant? Was he just as bad or good as all the other kings? Was he an easy target because he looked differently? What is the story to believe?
A wheeler-dealer charlatan has taken control of the country… and everybody underestimated him. Seattle Shakespeare Company launches its 2018-2019 season with a masterclass in political intrigue, Shakespeare’s Richard III. The production is a collaboration with upstart crow collective, and features an all-female acting company. Richard III will be directed by Rosa Joshi, and previews September 12 and 13, opens September 14, and runs through October 7 at the Leo K. Theatre. “Bring Down the House was such a monumental event and a thrill to watch unfold,” said Seattle Shakespeare Company Artistic Director George Mount. “Each part was gripping, edge-of-your-seat theatre that just left you wanting more. There was such momentum and drive in the telling of it that left us with an almost cliffhanger ending as Sarah Harlett’s Richard begins his ascension. How could we not keep the story going with this incredibly talented team? I’m excited to partner with upstart crow again to bring this story to its inevitable conclusion.” Fifteen actors comprise the ensemble of Richard III. Set design for the production is by Shawn Ketchum Johnson, costume design by Christine Tschirgi, lighting design by Geoff Korf, and sound design by Robertson Witmer and Meghan Roche.
Classical plays with strong female leads make up Seattle Shakespeare Company’s upcoming season just announced by Artistic Director George Mount. Plans for the company’s 2018-2019 season include Richard III, Arms and the Man, All’s Well That Ends Well, She Stoops to Conquer, and As You Like It. “The thematic narrative for the shows is All’s Fair in Love and War,” said Mount. “Each of the plays has something to say about the efforts that people go through to get what they want either in the field of combat or the field of romance.” The company previously announced its selection for the free Wooden O summer 2018 park shows: King Lear and The Merry Wives of Windsor. In the spring of 2019 Seattle Shakespeare Company will tour Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet to schools and venues across Washington State. “Even though some of these plays deal with heavy subjects as well as compelling ideas, I felt that it was time for a bit of theatre escapism,” said Mount. “This season is more of a way to let ourselves be entertained, distracted, elevated, absolved, or removed from the daily headlines.” Following up on the success in 2017 of Bring Down the House, a two-part adaptation Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy, Seattle Shakespeare Company will partner again with upstart crow collective to finish out the final chapter in the Wars of the Roses with Richard III. “The compelling nature of that production and the riveting performance of Sarah Harlett as Richard of Gloucester made it too irresistible not to produce Richard III,” said Mount. Rosa Joshi will direct an all-female staging of the rise and downfall of Shakespeare’s most cunning villain. Richard III will perform at the Leo K. Theatre September 12-October 7, 2018. “Shaw is so great at popping the bubble of our conventional notions. I’m glad his words and ideas will be back on our stage,” said Mount. Arms and the Man is a story about romantic love and about the romantic notions of war and valor. “It’s a near perfect comedy. It’s so charming it’s so funny, and it unfolds in such a delightful and unexpected ways. I’m excited to welcome David Armstrong, outgoing Artistic Director at the 5th Avenue Theatre, into the fold of our family to direct this show.” Arms and the Man will perform at the Center Theatre October 23-November 18, 2018. Director Victor Pappas, who staged the company’s productions of The Importance of Being Earnest and Mrs. Warren’s Profession, returns to direct All’s Well That Ends Well. “This is a play that Victor really, really wanted to do. It was on his ‘bucket list!’” said Mount. “I know Victor will bring his thoughtful care to this often challenging comedy. All’s Well That Ends Well will perform at the Center Theatre January 8-February 3, 2019. “This is a play I’ve wanted to produce for quite some time, and director Makaela Pollock and I have batted around the best time to bring it to the stage. This is the season,” said Mount. “She Stoops to Conquer is probably the funniest of the Restoration comedies. While it does have disguises, mistaken identities, and goofy characters, it’s really more about the wile, charm, and intelligence of some of the characters. Well, that and some really ridiculous situations and bawdy jokes. It’s an absolute delight.” She Stoops to Conquer will perform at the Center Theatre March 19-April 14, 2019. “We’ve had such great times with Kelly Kitchens as an actor on our stage and recently as director when she created such a exhilarating Medea for us,” said Mount “As You Like It is a play that she’s enamored with. She’s performed in it several times and has long wanted to direct it. Having her back to romp around in the woods in Shakespeare’s comedy is a slam dunk.” As You Like It will perform at the Center Theatre, April 23- May 19, 2019. The largest audiences for Seattle Shakespeare Company are the more than 16,000 students who get to experience one of the company’s touring productions. Seattle Shakespeare Company’s touring program crisscrosses the state with two 90-minute, 6-actor shows that bring Shakespeare to communities that don’t often see professional productions. During the spring of 2019 Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet will tour to schools and venues from Pullman to Wenatchee to Port Angeles. Free Shakespeare in the park is now a summer tradition for much of the region. Seattle Shakespeare Company’s Wooden O productions of King Lear and The Merry Wives of Windsor will perform in parks throughout the region from July 12 through August 12, 2018. The full schedule of dates and venues is available on the company’s website. Season ticket packages will go on sale April 17 and range from $100 to $210 for all five indoor productions. Season ticket packages can be purchased by calling the ticket office at (206) 733-8222 or online.
Although it’s more than a year away, we’re already planning for our 2018-2019 production of Richard III. Director Rosa Joshi gathered with artists and students to explore the play with a reading as well as through physical movement and sound. Richard III continues the story of the Yorks and Lancasters and their battle for the English throne that Seattle Shakespeare Company and upstart crow collective presented earlier this year in Bring Down the House, an adaptation of the Henry VI plays.