UMD stages accessible (and violent) ‘Richard III’Despite all the extra work that goes into staging Shakespeare, Tom Isbell and his cast of Bulldogs never shied away from bringing “Richard III” to UMD’s Dudley Theatre.
Despite all the extra work that goes into staging Shakespeare, Tom Isbell and his cast of Bulldogs never shied away from bringing “Richard III” to UMD’s Dudley Theatre.
“We started earlier on this than I would for a traditional rehearsal process,” said Isbell, a theater professor at UMD and the show’s director. “... I think the daunting part is that there are so many more steps we have to take as a cast just to present it.”
Before UMD Theatre’s student-actors could act out “Richard III” on their feet, Isbell told the Budgeteer, they first had to sit around a table and analyze the play’s text.
“There are so many more levels than with contemporary text, where you know what you’re saying and the audience knows what you’re saying,” he said.
Another “inherent” challenge of doing Shakespeare? The swordplay.
“But those are all fun challenges,” the always-affable Isbell quickly added.
The Kennedy Center-recognized director first did “Richard III” in graduate school, and his feelings for the 16th century play have never wavered.
“I’ve always just been fascinated by the story,” Isbell said. “... It’s a play that’s not done that much, because it’s very long to begin with — it’s the second-longest of Shakespeare’s plays — and also, especially in this country, it seems to require so much knowledge of the history ... so audiences have a hard time following the story.”
That’s why he is drawn to Colley Cibber’s take on “Richard III” from 1700, which interpolated parts one through three of its predecessor, “Henry VI.”
“When I came across the Colley Cibber adaptation, I got really excited,” Isbell said. “He incorporated some of the scenes from those previous plays and made a much more accessible and understandable version. When I came across that — I’d heard about it for years — I said, ‘This is really fun.’”
Isbell explained that Cibber made of lot of changes from Shakespeare’s “Richard.”
“He cut it down dramatically; he incorporated elements from other Shakespeare plays, to help tell the story; and he also wrote some of his own text now and then as well to further it along,” Isbell said. “In the late 1800s, long after he was dead, he took a lot of heat for that. So people haven’t done this version much — if at all — since then. ... But I think it works really well for younger audiences who don’t have much experience with Shakespeare. It’s great for them.”
Cibber’s version is also known for its violent nature. (Isbell’s bloody adaptation was rated 14+ by UMD — though he laughingly pointed out that his crew’s “Richard III” is nothing compared to, say, “Evil Dead: The Musical.”)
“One of the things Colley Cibber did was bring more of the murders onstage … and who doesn’t like that?” Isbell joked. “You get to see some of these dramatic things happen, as opposed to just hearing about them.
“So that’s why it is for mature audiences.”
Oh, and on top of Cibber’s (in)famous revisions, “We made more changes to it as well. … I just can’t stop myself,” Isbell said with a big laugh.
And by no means is any of this meant to discredit the original, of course.
“It’s a wonderful, engaging story with a great villain that we just love to hate,” Isbell said.
Another interesting feature of UMD Theatre’s “Richard III” is how the cast and director approached the aspect of physical space.
“We tried to create a non-traditional space within Dudley,” he said, mentioning that he once saw “Hamlet” put on in somebody’s attic. “On the one hand there’s nothing new about it — in the sense of actors putting on a play. The variation we’ve added to that is: What if it’s non-traditional actors in a non-traditional space putting on that play? It seems to work really well for this particular Shakespeare play. It seems like that’s kind of an interesting match.
“There’s kind of a muscularity to it, a grunginess to it, that I really like.”
NEWS TO USE
UMD Theatre will stage Colley Cibber’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “The Tragical History of Richard III” at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2-4, 7-11 and at 2 p.m. Dec. 5 (American Sign Language-interpreted performance) at Dudley Experimental Theatre, which is located in Marshall Performing Arts Center.