DruidShakespeare: Richard III, directed by Garry Hynes at Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival

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Queen Elizabeth (Jane Brennan), Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Aaron Monaghan), Peter Daly, Frank Blake, Queen Margaret (Marie Mullen). Photo Richard Termine.

Queen Elizabeth (Jane Brennan), Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Aaron Monaghan), Peter Daly, Frank Blake, Queen Margaret (Marie Mullen). Photo Richard Termine.

DruidShakespeare: Richard III
Directed by Garry Hynes
Produced by Druid
Starring Aaron Monaghan as Richard III
Francis O’Connor, set and costume design
James F. Ingalls, lighting design
Gregory Clarke, sound design
Conor Linehan, music
David Bolger, movement and fight choreography
Doreen McKenna, co-costume design

Cast
Aaron Monaghan – Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later King Richard III
Marie Mullen – Queen Margaret/Lord Mayor
Jane Brennan – Queen Elizabeth
Ingrid Craigie – Duchess of York
Garrett Lombard Hastings/Tyrrell/Blunt
Rory Nolan – Buckingham
Marty Rea – Clarence/Catesby
Bosco Hogan – King Edward IV/Bishop of Ely
Peter Daly – Rivers/Brackenbury
John Olohan – Stanley/Murderer 2/Archbishop of York
Siobhán Cullen – Lady Anne/Edward, Prince of Wales
Frank Blake – Dorset/Murderer 1/ Richmond
Emma Dargan-Reid – Richard, Duke of York/Page

The original posting of this review contained a criticism of the sonic presentation of the show. The comments made on that issue were not verified or investigated prior to the review being posted and I have since received information that confirms that these earlier unsubstantiated observations about vocal amplification were erroneous. I now retract them with apologies to those concerned.

Garry Hynes’ concept, which balanced respect for Shakespeare’s text with its many parallels with current events in the United States, Russia, and the UK, was, well, unimpeachable. Last year I enthusiastically reviewed a compelling, purposely rough and ready production directed by Austin Pendleton, which arose out of a feeling that Richard III—actually The Wars of the Roses, incorporating excerpts from Henry VI, Part 3—urgently needed to be put before an American audience for them to see the evils of contemporary politics reflected in it, no matter what limitations the situation placed on production values. The niceties of scansion and rhetoric were at times compromised by a passion to get the message across. Druid’s Richard III was impeccably, beautifully spoken, and costumed with an elegance which went against the contemporary trend towards plainness and recalled the sumptuous look of early twentieth century productions. Yet the messages were brought out with adroitness and eloquence. For example Hynes cleverly ended the first half of the performance with the often-cut Scrivener’s speech (Act III, sc. 6), here placed in Catesby’s mouth, and delivered with sharp wit and the thickest Irish brogue of the cast by Marty Rea:

This is the indictment of the good Lord Hastings,
Which in a set hand fairly is engrossed
That it may be this day read over in Paul’s,
And mark how well the sequel hangs together:
Eleven hours I spent to write it over,
For yesternight by Catesby was it brought me.
The precedent was full as long adoing,
And yet within these five hours lived Lord Hastings
Untainted, unexamined, free, at liberty.
Here’s a good world the while!
Why who’s so gross
That sees not this palpable device?
Yet who’s so bold but says he sees it not?
Bad is the world and all will come to naught
When such bad dealing must be seen in thought.

The contrast between the opulence of the costumes and these harsh topical references creates its own kind of Verfremdungseffekt, which makes the contemporary relevance of the play all the more palpable. It was also clearly a priority for Ms. Hynes to make the Shakespeare’s language as clear and understandable as possible for the American (and perhaps Irish?) audience. Each member of the cast spoke with their own variant of Irish English, with Rory Nolan, appropriately enough as Buckingham, sounding the most British, and often rather slowly, the most extreme being parts of Monaghan’s delivery of Richard’s opening speech. Indeed, not a word was lost, which is commendable, and all the actors showed total mastery of Shakespearian diction, with thrilling effects of rhythm and verbal color throughout. Shakespeare’s language was ultimately at the heart of this production. If Druid in fact performed it without electronics in Galway and Dublin, it would have been worth the trip to hear it.

Another stark contrast in the production existed between the costumes and the bleak, industrial set—both designed by Francis O’Connor. Suggesting the transformer room of some factory, the set had its own eerie elegance. At the rear a handsome backdrop suggested both a rocky cliff and a distant landscape, suggesting 15th century perspective, as we might see in the work of Paolo Uccello and especially prominent in the Battle of Bosworth Field. Blocking often fell into rather contrived compositions of actors in profile, which were none the less expressive for their style. And, I should add, it rains much of the time.

The ladies are all-important in Richard III, setting in motion the most powerful force of opposition to Richard’s lethal machinations—at least verbally and emotionally, even if Lady Anne yields and Queen Elizabeth temporizes. And Druid assembled a powerful group indeed. Marie Mullen as Queen Margaret, widow of King Henry VI, clad in her deceased husband’s old military uniform, haunted the palace with a fittingly crazed intensity. Surrounded by a cloud of gauze, she is the first to appear on stage, wandering across, lost in her own thoughts. She enters the conversation from the edges, sitting on the floor, or emerging from the shadows like a living ghost. Mullen was fully in command of one of the great vituperative roles. As the Lord Mayor, saying little if anything, she was fatuous to the core, easily bamboozled by Gloucester’s Puritan cant and Richard’s display of piety, as he appears in a friar’s robe, flanked by two sets of clerical robes and mitres set on wooden crosses. In Shakespeare’s time London and her Lord Mayors leaned towards Puritanism, and her portrayal and the direction expressed trenchantly Shakespeare’s contempt for such people.1

Jane Brennan projected all the toughness Queen Elizabeth had developed in a royal family that despised her as a commoner, as well as a philandering husband. She carried herself with slightly exaggerated dignity and wore her gown, bustled like those of the other royal women and in the same magnificent vein as the others, perhaps with a tinge of sombre vulgarity, as if she were not quite to the manner born.

Ingrid Craigie’s Duchess of York, the hapless mother of Richard, Edward IV, and George, Duke of Clarence, bore her sufferings with brittle fury. All three were equal to the magnificent vituperative rhetoric of their final scene together, with their bitter indictment of Richard.

Richard (Aaron Monaghan), Lady Anne (Siobhán Cullen). Photo Richard Termine.

Richard (Aaron Monaghan), Lady Anne (Siobhán Cullen). Photo Richard Termine.

Siobhán Cullen brought a pathetic beauty to Lady Anne, widow of Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, Henry VI’s eldest son. When she appears on stage with her father in law’s corpse, she drags it herself on her long train, almost an extension of his winding sheet. She managed that difficult scene in which Richard persuades her to marry him most skillfully suggesting the multiple motives which drive Lady Anne to relent and make the fatal error which will cost her her life. Later on, in Act IV, sc. 2, she remains on stage to hear her husband Richard, now King Richard, instruct Catesby to “rumor it abroad/that Anne my wife is sick and like to die.” In her misery she even looks sick, as she realizes the fate he has planned for her.

A brilliant and varied team of male actors played Richard’s victims and henchmen, each portraying his character with his own flavor of wit—different blends of cynicism, acid, edge, or despair. I have mentioned Garrett Lombard’s remarkable voice already. He used this to convey Hastings’ toughness as a loyal supporter of Edward IV’s court, the murderer Tyrrell’s depravity, and the soldierliness of the minor figure, Sir James Blunt, a follower of Richmond.

Rory Nolan played Buckingham, the most enthusiastic of Richard’s henchmen. Their relationship deteriorates on the spot when Richard’s command to murder the two young princes makes Buckingham hesitate, at least to test Richard’s willingness to reward him as he has come to expect. Catesby easily takes his place and sees to the murder, while Buckingham takes flight. Nolan played him ironically, as a man for whom expediency comes naturally. He will obey any order, as long as he can see some advantage in it.

Marty Rea acted Catesby with a multi-faceted wit, going beyond Buckingham in actually having fun carrying out Richard’s blackest desires. If Buckingham seemed the most English of the cast by accent and bearing, Catesby was the most Irish, sporting a bowler hat, which made him seem like a man Bloom might have encountered in any pub in Dublin, perhaps even The Citizen himself. Following the pattern shown in Lombard’s double casting, Rea also took the part of Clarence, taking up some of the most gorgeous language in this brutal play and speaking it with virtuosic nuance.

Bosco Hogan, as an ailing King Edward IV, did not let his infirmity deprive him of whatever kingliness he had left. He made his futile attempts at reconciling his household with straightforward authority. John Olohan’s main part was the steadfast Stanley, joining Frank Blake as a Murderer. Peter Daly gave body and color to Rivers, Queen Elizabeth’s brother. Emma Dargan-Reid had great fun playing the mischievous boy, Richard, Duke of York, who rides Richard’s hump.

The only disappointment in the cast was Aaron Monaghan’s Richard. Actually his physical acting as Richard was magnificent, both in his body and to a lesser extent in his facial expressions. There was a twist of the mouth, which came back too often, just like some of his vocal devices, most annoyingly in his constant and mechanical employment of falsetto, which most often signified that Richard was either being cynical or lying. If they had been connected to feelings or reactions of Richard they might have amounted to more than mere devices. I would have to see Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard again (It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, and I don’t remember it very well.) to judge how far method acting goes with a fantastical villain, the creation of Shakespeare and Richard Burbage, and certainly not a Joe Keller or a Stanley Kowalski. With a certain indulgence for the circumstances of performance in the Lynch theater, I’d say that Monaghan’s Richard had too much craft and not enough psychology or feeling to hold it all together in the flow of the action. (I enjoyed Mr. Monaghan’s performance in Druid’s production of Enda Walsh’s Penelope immensely and consider him one of the most capable and vivid actors we have, and in spite of these criticisms I would consider him one of the best of a spotty lot in my experience, the worst being Kevin Spacey and the best the great Andrew Jarvis, whom I saw in a video of the English Shakespeare Company’s Wars of the Roses from the 1980s.) All I can say is that the shortcomings I perceived in his performance have stimulated me to explore the problem further.

In fact the story of Richard is a real one. A dysfunctional family can go on for generations, poisoned by resentments, jealousy, and greed over property and entitlements. Then an individual appears in the bloodline who is actively dangerous—a phenomenon of bad blood or a mystical fluke? Monaghan’s Richard is a monomaniacal schemer. His relationships with his family don’t go beyond their existence as obstacle to be overcome in pursuit of his goals, vividly depicted in the production by a crowned skull in a plexiglas display case, hovering above the stage.

Gorgeous visual design, action, honor for the word, and a splendid ensemble cast, what could make for a more bracing and absorbing Richard III? I was haunted by the characterizations, story-telling, and atmosphere for days afterwards.

The ghosts of the young princes haunt Richard. (Aaron Monaghan, Emma Dargan-Reid, Siobhán Cullen, Frank Blake). The other ghosts were cut. Photo Richard Termine.

The ghosts of the young princes haunt Richard. (Aaron Monaghan, Emma Dargan-Reid, Siobhán Cullen, Frank Blake). The other ghosts were cut. Photo Richard Termine.

  1. Robert Adger Law, “Two Shakespearean Pictures of Puritans,” Studies in English, No. 13 (July 8, 1933), pp. 78-83
About the author

Michael Miller

Michael Miller, Editor and Publisher of New York Arts and The Berkshire Review, an International Journal for the Arts, was trained as a classicist and art historian at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews and articles to Bostonia, Master Drawings, Drawing, Threshold, and North American Opera Journal, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. He has taught courses in classics, the English language, and art history at Oberlin, Rutgers, New York University, the New School, and Williams. Currently, when he is not at work on The Berkshire Review and New York Arts, he writes fiction, pursues photography, and publishes scholarly work. In 2011 he contributed an introductory essay to Leonard Freed: The Italians / exh. cat. Io Amo L’Italia, exhibition at Le Stelline, Milan, and wrote the revised the section on American opera houses in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. He is currently at work on a libretto for a new opera by Lewis Spratlan, Midi, an adaptation of Euripides’ Medea set in the French West Indies, ca. 1930.

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