IT’S true to say that Shakespeare’s Richard III is the York play – prior to becoming England’s last Plantagenet king, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, had expansive and proven connections to the city.
There are still calls today for Richard’s remains – famously revealed to the world in a Leicester car park in 2013 – to be re-interred at York Minster.
Numerous sources confirm that the historic Richard will forever be woven into the city’s narrative.
It’s also true to say that, as director of the York Shakespeare Project’s Richard III, which opens at The Friargate Theatre on April 26, I am acutely aware of the antipathy held by many here in York towards Shakespeare’s astonishing depiction of Richard as both physically and mentally deformed, and, as a result, inherently evil.
Shakespeare’s queen was Elizabeth I, whose grandfather, latterly Henry VII, defeated Richard at Bosworth Field in August 1485. So there were compelling reasons perhaps to mischaracterise Richard in the service of Tudor propaganda.
That said, I am not directing history but drama. Shakespeare took his ardently pro-Tudor sources and has crafted from them one of the defining tragic figures in the history of world theatre. Thanks to Laurence Olivier’s 1955 film of the play, and Ian McKellen’s subsequent outings 40 years on, the notion of Richard as a petty, narcissistic and vengeful psychopath has been cemented into the national conscience.
If that clutch of adjectives sounds familiar, we need look no further than contemporary politics, which is why I have decided to set my version in the House of Commons.
Telling Shakespeare through what is comfortably the most corrupt institution in the county, the play explores the cut and thrust of power’s crucible, with laws ignored and lies sown. I believe that a parliamentary telling of Richard III is not only long overdue, it’s also bang on time. Prepare then for British politics as played out, murderously, on the floor of the House of Commons.
Richard III runs at The Friargate Theatre, York on April 26-29 at 7.30pm, with a matinee at 2.30pm on April 29. Tickets are £15/£10 and are available at: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/ridinglights/york-international-shakespeare-festival-richard-iii/e-lmjkdb
Besides directing Richard III for YSP, Daniel Connelly will be the prospective parliamentary candidate for The True & Fair Party for York Outer at the next General Election. He also co-presents with Hugh Bernays the made-in-York podcast The Anarchist Monastery, available on all major podcast platforms.