A selection of RSC productions listed by year and director:
Michael Boyd (2007)
As Artistic Director of the RSC, Michael Boyd revived his 2000 production of Richard III, this time with Jonathan Slinger as the protagonist. Unlike Boyd's other 2006 - 2008 History plays, this production was modern-dress.
One ensemble of 44 actors performed all eight English history plays in repertoire at the Complete Works Festival in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2005 to 2008. The shows were performed in our temporary Courtyard theatre. In 2008, the shows took a six-week residency in London. For this, our Scenic Workshop and Stage teams recreated the Courtyard's thrust stage auditorium at the Roundhouse in Camden.
Sean Holmes (2003)
This Richard was conceived as an Edwardian impresario, a barn-storming actor-manager taking charge of a great theatre (complete with magnificent red velvet curtains, well-worn backcloths and stage flats) to play out his compulsive fantasies, only to discover that his play will ultimately escape his control. Henry Goodman's Richard emerged from the heavy red curtains at the start of the play, straight-backed and dapperly dressed in ivory top hat and tails. Half-way through his opening speech, he stumbled, almost falling before angrily tearing off his clothes to reveal a darker outfit beneath, with heavy boots, orthopaedic body-brace and arm-strap.
At the end of the play, the back wall of the stage (which had, up until now, been understood to be the real back wall of the theatre, made up of unadorned brick, from which hung ropes, hooks and switches) flew up to reveal a second bare, brick wall, before which the ghosts of Richard's victims stood in eerie silent accusation. The defeated Richard now saw that there was another theatre, within which his stage was merely one more playing space over which he no longer held any power.
Michael Boyd (2000)
Michael Boyd directed the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III in one sequence on the Swan stage. The action of the tetralogy was played out on a traverse stage, exploiting the galleries of the auditorium with inventive and dynamic use of vertical space. The ensemble company were cast through all four plays, so that the audience could watch and appreciate the growth of characterisation in roles such as Margaret and Richard.
The small, dark figure of Aidan McArdle's Richard brimmed with unholy delight at his manipulation of those around him. The position of the play at the end of such a long sequence ensured that Richard could not dominate the audience's attention as he does when the play stands alone.
Having watched the previous plays, the audience had been drawn into the complex story of the civil wars and the tangled relationships of many different characters, all of whom deserved their place in the story.
Steven Pimlott (1995)
Having been killed, Richard's victims reappeared as ghosts, slowly writhing in unearthly, pale winding sheets, on one side of the stage throughout the rest of the action.
As Richard, David Troughton's body was bent into a painful and ungainly posture, with a permanently stiff leg and over-developed shoulder. Wearing a jester's cap and bells, he delivered the first part of his opening speech as a deferential entertainment to the assembled laughing court, before moving downstage to confide the rest of the speech to the audience.
There was no battle with Richmond in this production. After his anguished conscience speech, Richard simply placed his crown on the floor, straightened his limbs and walked over to the side of the stage to join the ghosts. The centre of the stage was left clear for Richmond's victory speech. The actor who had been the king began slowly clapping from the sidelines, initiating the final uneasy applause from the theatre audience as the play ended.
Sam Mendes (1992)
In a heavy, leather greatcoat, shaven head sweating above folds of flesh, Simon Russell Beale's Richard fulfilled Margaret's description of him as a 'bunch-backed toad'. His eyes glittered with malevolent and embittered intelligence as he fixed them upon the audience which, in the studio theatre of The Other Place, was only a few feet away from him. Margaret haunted the doorways above the stage at the death of each of Richard's victims, repeating her earlier prophetic curses as each came to pass. She remained in this vantage point throughout Act 5, tapping one piece of wood against the other as time ran out for Richard. The fight against Richmond was evenly matched until Margaret appeared before Richard, causing him to falter and fall beneath Richmond's sword.
Bill Alexander (1984)
Worcester Cathedral, with its massive tombs and carved stone screen, inspired the design for this richly pictorial production, in whose Gothic shadows wandered Margaret, wrapped in a huge Lancastrian flag.
Reminiscent of the spectacular medievalism of nineteenth-century theatre, this interpretation kept its flamboyant Richard firmly at the centre of attention. Antony Sher devised a nightmarish figure for the Crookback, taking his cue from Margaret's description of him as a 'bottled spider' (see photo, top right). Richard supported his spindly frame on two black crutches, on which, with long sleeves trailing, he propelled himself about the stage with terrifying power and agility. He used also them as ingenious tools, to catch Hastings's head in a pincer movement or to probe beneath women's skirts. His poisonous black hump was finally pierced by the cruciform sword of a Richmond in shining golden armour.
Terry Hands (1970)
The hump of Norman Rodway's Crookback was a life-sized boar's head, fiercely baring its teeth as it lay draped across his shoulders, It provided him, appropriately enough, with two faces. His left leg was strapped into a stiff support but he was commanding and light on his feet.
A vicious child's fantasy might have conjured up the world of this production, littered as it was with human skulls and sharp, deadly weapons. The noblemen were accompanied by attendants bearing standards emblazoned with their heraldic animal emblems. Hastings, whose emblem was the bull, was pursued to his death by Richard's thugs, Ratcliffe, Catesby and Lovell (named in the play as the Rat, the Cat and Lovell the dog) and repeatedly stabbed from behind with the tasselled banderillas of Spanish picadors.
Such imaginative boldness also marked the battle of Bosworth, which was presented as a weird dance, conducted by an allegorised figure of Death who led the ghosts towards Richard and delivered the final dagger thrust.
Peter Hall with John Barton (1963)
The Wars of the Roses was the name given to the trilogy of plays fashioned by Hall and Barton out of Richard III and the three parts of Henry VI. They argued that Richard III should never be presented singly: its proper context in the cycle is necessary in order to recreate the coherent historical awareness of the original Elizabethan audience.
The action of the play began beneath the baleful gaze of the dead from the Henry VI plays, whose heads were set on spikes around the set.
The armoury of Warwick Castle was the inspiration for the set's harsh, metallic design.
Lucid political analysis was the dominant aim rather than lavish pageantry and spectacle.
The audience had watched Ian Holm's Richard emerge from the Yorkist clan in the preceding play of the trilogy. His small stature, boyish face and deliberately naturalistic, low-key delivery resulted in an anti-heroic interpretation well-suited to modern taste.
Peggy Ashcroft's portrayal of Margaret broke with tradition in presenting a broken-down, grief-maddened old woman rather than a dignified and richly-dressed royal widow. Ashcroft seized on the opportunities offered by this great role when played in a through-line from the Henry VI plays, where Margaret appears first as young girl, then royal consort, warrior queen, and, finally, a psychologically damaged survivor.
A full list of RSC productions with details of cast and production teams can be found in the RSC Performance Database on the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust website.
Written by Rebecca Brown and Suzanne Worthington © RSC
Image shows Antony Sher as Richard in the RSC's 1984 production.
Image © RSC. With kind permission of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.