I chatted to Kate Saffin, who has written a piece as part of Rewriting Richard for The RSC – here are the links to the listing information and to book tickets: http://alarumtheatre.8ch.co.uk/ and https://www.rsc.org.uk/tickets/rewriting-Richard
Here’s what she had to say about the project…
Thank you for talking to Break A Leg, tell me about the piece and the inspiration for it.
It’s a reworking of Shakespeare’s Richard III. I was thinking about the fact that men get all the best speeches. Even where women have played those parts and bring a different perspective on it one could argue that they are still playing a male part.
I started thinking about the ‘Now is the winter…’ speech and wondering how it would sound spoken by a woman. Not a woman playing Richard but a woman being a woman in that world and who that woman might be. I found the answer was firstly that it made perfect sense in terms of commenting on the state of the nation and Edward IV’s return to the throne and secondly, that the woman was a servant. Someone moving freely about the castle, observing but almost invisible. Bess is a fictional servant, devoted to Richard – in my mind she is sister to the nurse who is referred to. In reality, of course, she could never have existed as few women were servants in the 15th century and those that were limited to the nursery or the laundry, they certainly wouldn’t have had had the freedom that Bess does to observe and take part in castle life.
Was it an easy piece to put down on paper?
In one sense, very easy – I had Shakespeare’s text to work on. In another, very difficult because there were choices to be made at every stage about what to include, what to leave out, how to create a 55 minute narrative from three hours of text. Ultimately it was shaped by Bess’s devotion to Richard. He is her focus, the events that affect him, affect her. She gossips her way through the story as she chops vegetables, sorts the laundry and kneads bread.
How has it translated from page to stage?
One of the fascinating aspects of the process was the way that, in the translation to the stage, we began to see how this new text turned Shakespeare’s version of Richard as evil on its head. Whilst using Shakespeare’s own words.
How does the space lend itself to the piece?
It’s a very simple, unfussy space which allows us to create the images of the world that Bess inhabits. At the same time it is a piece that could be set in many different spaces – we would love to perform it in the kitchen of a castle!
What do you hope the audience will take away with them?
The notion that you can play with Shakespeare’s text and create something new that provides a different perspective on his original work and the context that it was written in. A smile at Bess’s waspish observations of those she observes and gossips about. And perhaps a new sense of the wonderful language that he gave us – the rhythms, cadences and shapes of the text.
Finally, do you have a personal favourite Shakespeare play and why is it your favourite?
It probably has to be Richard III, partly because I have now spent so long immersed in the text that it is the play I know best and partly because it has been one of the most powerful and effective examples of propaganda through the arts in history. It shaped hundreds of years of thinking about Richard in a way that almost no other play has done.
I’d like to extend my thanks to Kate for chatting to me and wish her every success with the play.