Modernized Middle Ages

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First Posted: 4/8/2013

Many people shy away when they hear the name Shakespeare. Though the bard’s works are hailed by many a scholar, it doesn’t mean they’re an easy thing to understand. Enter the King’s College theater department, a group that puts on a Shakespearean play every year, and this time around, they’re aiming to show just how relevant the age-old productions still are, all while making it easier to understand in the process.

“Richard III” will debut this weekend in King’s theater, a show that tells the story of the Machiavellian rise to power and subsequent short reign of Richard III of England. Though it was believed to have been written in 1592, the story is easily relatable to people today. In fact, the show’s director Dave Reynolds’ reason for going with “Richard III” for this year’s production is one that lies in the modern era.

“I”ve been watching a lot of ‘Game of Thrones’ lately,” he said with a laugh. “You can see the influences so much. I revisited this play thinking that it’s the perfect time for it to work, what with the show being so popular and the themes being so similar.”

Reynolds said things have also been somewhat serendipitous with the February finding of the actual skull of King Richard III in Leicester, England.

The King’s crew is putting its own twist on the story of the king, though the entire production is still grounded in that era. “The beauty of Shakespeare is that it’s very open to interpretation,” Reynolds said. “I’ve done productions where it’s like with DiCaprio’s – they’re shooting pistols at each other – but this isn’t like that. It’s very much adhering to that time period, but we are utilizing modern multimedia elements to enhance it.”

“We have two screens behind the stage that let play many different parts,” student Nick Klem explained. “It lets the audience know what characters are which, it helps determine the settings of some scenes, and it’s going to help with some surpasses in the end.”

The setting itself has also been tailored to make this particular Shakespearean production stand out.

“It’s our take on the typical thrust stage,” Reynolds said. “King’s has had a thrust stage since the ’70s, but we chose to make our own for this. The audience still sits on three sets, but we made it look a little more industrial with open steel. We’ve got ramps and different levels, which have really opened up a lot of possibilities for me as a director.”

It also allows the actors to play more with not only their own actions, but the audience itself.

“I get to play to the audience,” Sean McKewon, who plays Richard III, said. “Shakespeare has a lot of monologues where he’s letting the audience in, so I get to run around to each side and actually talk to the crowd.”

The language is the major sticking point for such a show, one that Reynolds said “doesn’t need all the fancy spectacle. It’s an open platform and the actor.”

“Richard III” is very much about the characters as well, with the main man himself being an interesting study, what Reynolds calls a sociopath.

“He really kind of enjoys murdering people,” Reynolds said. “We talked a lot about whether his ultimate goal was to ascend to the throne, which he does, but sometimes it seems the idea is not so much about the throne, but that he just enjoys killing people. We’ve also played around with the idea that because he does have a physical deformity, he was probably someone who spent his entire life being bullied, and that’s where these urges stem from.”

Aside from Richard, there’s much to be gleaned from the various other characters in the show.

“They all have such unique back stories,” said Konrad Kraszewski, who plays Sir Richard Ratcliffe. “I’m a pretty minor or intermediate character, and I researched him and found all these crazy things that happened throughout history, and we’ve all been able to do that with our characters, no matter who they are. Shakespeare takes all these unique personalities and melds them into an amazing story, and it just works. No other play does that.”