The director of Richard III talks about "damaged darkness" and her approach to Shakespeare's Richard III.

Roxana Silbert in rehearsal, speaking and gesturing
Roxana Silbert in rehearsal

How are you approaching Richard III?

The women are central to Richard III and we have an incredibly strong female cast. It will have a contemporary setting and I've trimmed the text but it's essentially the play that you will recognize.

This is a play that has a very specific cultural context but the story – the heart and essence of it – are timeless. I want to find a setting for it that will allow characters to feel contemporary, but where we can have battles with swords.

It's about finding a theatrical language that can celebrate the three ages of the play: when it's set, when it's written and when it is being performed.

Is it relevant to today's audience?

I want audiences to relate to it as a modern play, but without objects such as mobile phones and guns. Richard's relationship to his family and to power, his ambition and his greed, are all timeless, but it does happen in a specific social cultural context and you can't deny that.

It's a great play for the Swan, where you get that very dynamic relationship with the audience who are close enough to see the cost of the charm, the ambition and the ruthlessness.

It creeps up on them as it creeps up on Richard – for example when the ghosts turn up. He's a great soldier and he's got a much better army than Richmond, but it's events from the past that he hasn't dealt with that crush him in the end.

How are you approaching the character of Richard?

It's a brilliant story, and Richard is an enormous part - it's the only Shakespeare play where the title character is on stage in every act. Apparently, after performing the role, Burbage told Shakespeare that he would never play a role again where he didn't get an act off– it was just too arduous!

There is no other play in which the central character drives it as Richard does – he's a real showman. His relationship with the audience really interests me – our relationship to him and the things he does shift dramatically during the play. He's a tremendously attractive character and his bravado is part of his charisma but he does some unforgivable things and that makes our relationship to him very complex.

Jonjo O'Neill and the company 

It's a really strong company – with some actors who have worked here before and others who are new to the RSC. 

I was looking for a young Richard. Jonjo is exactly the same age as the historical figure of Richard was when he died. Jonjo has the showmanship. Richard's character has a great sense of playfulness, but there is also a profound, damaged darkness in him.

I believe Jonjo is a brilliant actor who can combine that sense of child-like playfulness with a very dark core, someone able to play status but who also feels comfortable engaging openly with the audience. I think Jonjo brings all of those qualities to the part.

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