Audience chairs sat in a circle in the Bridges Larson Theatre in the Snow Fine Arts Center as people trickled into a dimly-lighted auditorium to watch UCA Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s “Richard III.”
The Shakespearean play is centered around the malicious and bitter reign of England’s Richard the III. The production that UCA’s performance is based on comes from a run of the show in 1984 by Royal Shakespeare Company, starring Anthony Sher as the physically crippled Richard III.
Senior theatre major Mikala Hicks hobbled onto the checkered stage as Richard III in forearm crutches and a hunch on her back to tower upon a chess board for the opening dialogue of the play.
Chris Fritzges, the play’s director and associate professor of theatre at UCA, told UCA News that the 1984 production of the show inspired the aspect of Richard using crutches to move around.
“That production was famous for Richard‘s use of arm crutches that gave him a spider-like movement quality and an evil personality that was charismatic, ferocious and energetic; this production draws some inspiration from elements of that show,” Fritzges said.
Set in 15th-century England during the War of the Roses between the houses of York and Lancaster, Richard III, Duke of Gloucester, envies his brother, King Edward IV. Power-hungry and jealous, Richard aspires to take the throne and is willing to do anything to become king.
“[The play] is very much like Game of Thrones and everybody has wronged everybody in some way,” Fritzges said in a promotion video.
Junior Emily Cobb, who played Queen Elizabeth and Richmond, said that while this wasn’t her first time being involved in a Shakespearean play, memorizing was still difficult at times because of the early English language used in the play.
“Memorizing lines was a little more difficult because it is verse and you want to be true to the language, but we were supposed to be [memorized] by our first rehearsal which helped,” Cobb said. “We did table work all together before we got on our feet to start blocking. There we analyzed the scenes and our lines, determining the meaning behind what we were saying. We did our own research on our characters. If not, it would have been really hard to understand who our characters were. The research was extra important for this show because it is based off of history.”
The actors, dressed in period-specific clothing, moved on and off the stage in swift motions during scene changes and stage blackouts to convey when the time had changed and characters perished.
“Not only did Richard grow up in a really bloody time … all he has known is war and violence,” Hicks said also within the promotion video. “All of that has brought [Richard] to this ‘You know what? To heck with them. I’m going to be king and do whatever I can to get there’ [mindset].”
Some of the most exciting scenes to the audience dealt with the crazed hitmen Richard sent to punish the people he believed to have betrayed him or threatened his throne.
“My absolute favorite scene is Act 4 Scene 4,” Cobbs said. “It is a scene between Queen Elizabeth and Richard. Richard is struggling to maintain his power against Queen Elizabeth, who is one of the few people in the play who does not believe in Richard’s persuasions. We did that scene and the ending made the audience audibly gasp which I loved.”
The show also included a sword fight during what was depicted as a battle in the War of Roses as well as a smoke machine to accompany dream scenes, in which a disgruntled Queen Margaret, played by senior theatre major Kaelin Taylor, would cast spells upon Richard for his role in the murder of her son, Edward of Westminister, and her husband, Henry VI.
Cobbs encourages all attendees, especially those unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s plays, to sit through and take in the work and rehearsal time that went into the production.
“For those who haven’t seen the show yet, I highly recommend they do,” Cobb said. “Even if I wasn’t in it, I would say to go see it. It’s not every day that you get to see a Shakespeare show, especially one with such an intimate setting like ours. It is a wonderful show that so many people have put many hours into making. Even if you don’t understand the language, you will still enjoy the elements of the production.”
UCA Theatre’s production of “Richard III” is scheduled to continue at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7 and 8 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 9. To purchase and reserve tickets for the upcoming performances, call (501) 450-3265 or visit UCA Ticket Central located in the Reynolds Performance Hall box office.