Riccardo III by William Shakespeare, directed by Marco Carniti – until September 18, Silvano Toti Globe Theatre, Rome
Director – Marco Carniti
Translator – Enrico Groppali
Adaption – Marco Carniti
Production – Politeama Srl
Designer – Marco Carniti
Costume Designer – Maria Filippi
Music – David Barittoni e Giacomo de Caterini
Light Designer – Umile Vainieri
Assistant Set Designer – Fabiana Di Marco
Assistant Costume Designer – Camilla Marcelli
Director’s Assistant – Adamo Lerenzetti
Sound Designer – Franco Patimo
Lady Anna – Federica Bern
Duca di Clarence – Tommaso Cardarelli
Lord Hastings – Patrizio Cigliano
Margherita figlia di Clarence – Benedetta Cigliano
Lord Stanley – Massimo Cimaglia
Elisabetta moglie di Re – Edoardo Sandra Collodel
Re Edoardo – Nicola D’Eramo
Conte di Richmond – Pier Giuseppe Di Tanno
Riccardo III (Duca di Gloucester) – Maurizio Donadoni
Duca di Buckingham – Gianluigi Fogacci
Margherita d’Anjou – Melania Giglio
Duca di York – Gabriele Granito
Conte di Rivers – Raffaele Latagliata
Principe Edward – Sebastian Morosini
Duchessa di York – Paila Pavese
Cittadino – Raffaele Proietti
Sir William Catesby – Emanuele Salce
Sir Brackenbury – Alessio Sardelli
The Empire has gone Elizabethan. Built in 2003, the Silvano Toti Globe Theatre threatens to trump even the Baths of Caracalla (the city’s open-air opera house) as the cultural center point of Rome in the sweltering summer months. This season, the company cooked up an ambitious program including La tempesta (The Tempest), Pene d’amor perdute (Love’s Labour’s Lost), Sogno di una notte di mezza estate (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Dodicesima notte (Twelfth Night), and now closing with Riccardo III (Richard III).
Don’t be scared by the foreign language. Even if you’ve read the play only once or twice, you’ll have no problem following the action (though rudimentary Italian will help). In fact, maximal accuracy was not the overriding concern for translator Enrico Groppali and director Marco Carniti. They rather aimed for superb drama and a strict fidelity to the plot. The result is an authentic, barely abridged Richard III (running over four hours) showing greater erudition and ingenuity than many productions in the original English.
Indeed, rendering a precise Italian translation would have been an exercise in futility. This is clear from the opening lines. There is no way to pun “sun/son” in Italian, so “sole di York” must do. Any attempt to duplicate the consonant chain of “bosom”-“buried”-“bound”-“bruised” would have come out like macaroni, so a tripping Italian cadence elegantly conveys the irony implied by the English alliteration. The avoidance of contrived Italian expressions worked beautifully even when the writers resorted to colloquialism. Instead of upbraiding Elizabeth for strewing “sugar on that bottled spider” in Act I, Margaret accompanies an idiosyncratic “macchè fai?” with the traditional Italian hand gesture.
This production is deliberately staged for maximal psycho-dramatic effect, forcing each of us to confront the “monster” within. Carniti refuses to get caught up in the complex web of familial relations and conflicting claims to succession that make this, the longest of Shakespeare’s plays, difficult to follow. The playbill (unlike Stratford) offers no genealogical chart. Instead, Carniti gives us the unadulterated spectacle of the carnage strewn by Richard along the path to power. Though frenetic, his murderous deeds are methodical and repetitious even to the point of “monotony.” His machinations generate a vortex of violence sucking everyone in, including the audience. This production begins with Richard entering the same door the audience has just entered, swaggering across the pit and insouciantly tossing his script onto the stage where it remains until others – most notably Elizabeth and Stanley – finally have the courage to rewrite it.
Unlike other productions, Carniti preserves two sides to Richard. We almost never see his conscience, but we know it’s there. Maurizio Donadoni (Richard) delivers his lines with unrelenting rapidity, giving the sense that Richard is afraid to slow down lest his conscience catch up with him. This gives new, heightened significance to the dialogue between the two murderers before they kill Clarence. After the execution, we hear drums beat furiously while the First Murderer wordlessly upbraids the Second for his cowardice. In effect, these two carry out an exchange that Richard fears will occur in his own head if he takes a moment to breathe. Carniti envisions the king as a Don Giovanni who has already sold his soul, leaving a void that must be filled with one “form” (i.e., soul) after another. Richard is corrupt, but not hopelessly so. He is as much a reflection of the evil around him as a projection of the evil within him. His soliloquy after wooing Anne is less an expression of surprise at her gullibility than anger at her audacity. He doesn’t so much gloat over his success as marvel at her readiness. How dare she open her heart to him within inches of her husband’s corpse! As Richard’s conscience threatens to overtake him, he delivers his lines at a more furious pace, rudely interrupting his interlocutors whenever they are about to doubt that his sole interest is to promote the house of York for the good of the people.
This creates an unrelenting atmosphere of anxiety, heightened by a red plank protruding from the stage and hovering over the pit. Suspended by cords and chains from the stage’s columns, the plank serves as a lens to focus the dramatic action, a sort of “abstract bridge” that both joins and separates the real from the psychological. The closer the characters approach the edge of the plank, the closer they come to plunging into the unknown: a void of nothingness that could hardly be worse than their hell on earth. Lady Anne dangles precariously from the edge while Richard woos her in Act I. Richard hides beneath it in a playful attempt to escape Margaret’s curse. After uttering her final prophesies in Act IV, Margaret nudges a “crystal ball” toward the edge while the audience shirks back, relieved to discover the ball is made of ice when it finally plops in front of them. Richard sleeps so close to the edge in Act V that we are sure he’ll tumble from it the moment he is startled from his nightmare (though he doesn’t). The platform, beginning at the rear of the stage, is equipped with a track upon which roll various props and furniture entering through a single door: Clarence’s bier, Richard’s throne, and various contraptions for torturing and executing Richard’s victims, all of which are cleverly patterned after the faintly traced “boxes” that appear in Francis Bacon’s pictures.
Most ingenious was the dream sequence in Act V. As Richard prepares to settle in for the night, a red silk cloth is hung from a single wire representing his “tent.” After the ghosts enter one by one, the tent is plucked from its clip and starts to billow as the ghosts shake it. They lift it for a moment to allow Richmond to pass under it, haunting Richard with his virtuous presence. Shakespeare’s original script is then greatly condensed as the ghosts, gathered under the sheet, alternatively press their faces against it from the inside, taunting Richard with eerie whispers. It continues to bulge and flutter until they finally exit in an amorphous blob. The concept was as effective as it was simple.
Richard’s soliloquy upon waking seals his split personality. Donadoni recites the lines as if Richard is finally forced to dialogue with himself and to confront the conscience we all knew was buried within. He alternates between two voices: one demonic, the other desperately in search of some trace of goodness. His delivery, evocative of Regan’s two voices in The Exorcist, chills to the bone. The king uses every ounce of energy left to delay his inevitable demise, knowing well he can do nothing to stop it. Victorious after an equally “psychological” duel, Richmond finally marches off with his pitifully young bride, suggesting that another demise is imminent. The Elizabethans are headed for an Empire.