Richard, My Richard: Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds

Last night I appeared on stage at The Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds.  Whilst technically this is true, it does not mean that I performed at the theatre.  Doubtless many will be glad of that clarification!   The production of Richard, My Richard was played in the round, and we had the pleasure of seeing the play from where normally the actors would stand, as the stage was filled with raked seating and the action taking place over the covered pit.

Richard, My Richard is the first play by respected historical novelist Philippa Gregory. She told us in her introduction before the show, that her objective in writing it was so that we should each leave the theatre with our own impression of Richard III.

The historically literate will have been intrigued by this view of Richard III’s life. Many will know Richard III through the plays of one William Shakespeare, whom I doubt Richard would have chosen as his press agent!

But what do we really know about the man?  History tells us – very specifically, for History (played by Tom Kanji) is one of the main characters in this play, that history is just words. Words written by men who shout the loudest. Once history is written, over time we repeat it.  If it is not written, then it didn’t happen.  Frequently History told Richard (Kyle Rowe), that his recollections could not be accurate or even true as there were no written records.

The story of Richard III is a complex one and attempting to fit so much into a two-and-a-half-hour play is ambitious. But who better to do this than historian Phillipa Gregory, whose research and novels pertaining to that period of history are best sellers.

The ignominy of discovering a dead King beneath a council car park in Leicester is where the play begins. What follows is Richard’s attempts to put History straight by filling in the gaps – for there are many gaps in his history.

You do need your wits about you to follow the narrative, especially as the production was played in-the-round. I found I lost focus when the actors turned away from our seats to address those on the other side, for I am not an historian.

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Women seldom get a mention in history lest they be witches or sorceress.  His sister-in-law, Elizabeth (the Queen), Anne his wife and Margaret Beaufort (whose ambitions for her son Henry VII would later become queen mother after the overthrow of Richard), all had their own agenda.  Their spell weaving was probably more political manipulation and editorial spin than witchcraft.

I left the theatre with a different impression of Richard and a thirst to improve my historical knowledge and fill in the gaps in my understanding of English history.  If you already know your history, you will view this play in a different light entirely.

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