Sunday, 15 May 2016

Richard III - Interview With Emily Carding

Shakespeare wrote plays that smash through barriers of race and class and his plays can still be enjoyed today by everyone...
Yet something has happened to theatre which has caused a horrific change of opinion, that theatre is now only for the educated or the moneyed echelons of society. This is wrong and it is killing live theatre as audience numbers dwindle and theatres close. The rise of Pub Theatre could not have happened at a better time as it is a perfect way to stop this downturn and romance the public at large into a new and passionate love affair with live performance. Yet for many, Shakespeare remains a closed book, whether due to bad experience or just disinterest you wont catch many people going to see the latest production of The Bards work. This is a shame, a tragedy and one that I wont simply ignore and pretend it doesn't matter. In a climate of increasingly loud shouts for further diversity, a panic over increasing costs to bring plays to stage and falling audience numbers it would be easy to try and rely on cheap gimmickry to solve the issues facing the Arts. What about this as an intriguing idea? What about a focus on beautiful performance and the exceptional talent of a playwright who will outlast us all? Shakespeare's work can engage with audiences in a way that few modern playwrights could only dream of.

Emily Carding has been astounding audiences worldwide with her one woman interpretation of Richard III and I relished the opportunity of finding out more from her. Just a cursory glance of Carding's resume will convince you that she is perfectly placed to bring this project to the stage as she has an astounding breadth of experience with Shakespearean roles. Developed whilst in residency at Tjarnarbio Theatre, Reykjavik and premiered at Prague Fringe in 2015, Richard III has never been more accessible.

But why a one woman show? and whats all this about breaking the fourth wall? I chatted to Emily just days before the shows 50th performance to find out more.

When I read about Richard 111 being performed as a one woman show my first thought is that this is an exceptionally bold statement about the lack of diversity in Theatre and the need for equality. What was your vision for the show?

Kol (Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir), The Director thought that I was the best person for the job, to play the character of Richard, regardless of gender. I have played roles in all female and in gender blind productions that have been much more overtly about playing the gender. I have had a pair of socks stuck down my trousers and have overtly played that very penis orientated, testotrarone, masculine thing. Almost as a mockery to the gender, this was never about that. This was about the character, his journey and taking the audience on that journey. It's been very refreshing that the audience have completely gone along with that, for the most part, it's really something that the audience doesn't mention. There was one reviewer that came along with a feminist lens to see the show and you can tell from the review that they came along to see what a woman playing the role would bring to it and how it was different. Fundamentally missing the point entirely and I've said this before that if we were trying to make a statement about gender its the fact that it shouldn't have to be a statement. That's all we are trying to say about gender. 

I am also wondering what a one woman show interpretation of Hamlet would look like for an audience. 

I am very interested in Hamlet, I've played parts of him,if that makes sense, but I've never played the full role. I played his last couple of acts at University and I got to play his death scene on The Globe stage as part of his Birthday celebrations. I was one of the few Hamlets for the public performance, we had a family version with two guys that presented the show in a very family friendly way and then actors would come and do the ten big speeches. I got the last scene, his death scene, which was really amazing! It's a role that I am obsessed with, really, and its interesting that you mention it now because I'm going to try and convince Kol that we could do a one woman Hamlet. There is a critic who was writing in the 19th Century (Edward P Vining), he wrote a piece called The Mystery Of Hamlet, its wacky and completely out there and bonkers, like a conspiracy theory. But his theory was that Hamlet as Shakespeare wrote him, was a woman that had been raised as a man for political reasons. He picks out all sorts of things in the text that point to Hamlet being female and struggling with his or her gender identity. So, you cant say that it would be the same as as everyone's Hamlet is different and plenty of women have played him, I have a book that features all the women who have played the role. It's why i find it surprising when people are amazed at Maxine Peake, a woman, playing Hamlet. Women have been playing Hamlet  forever and Hamlet is, as Shakespeare's male hero's go, a very feminine character. He isn't a particularly masculine character, that's his problem. So what gender would bring to it, I don't know I think its down to the personality of the actor and how much of that would be there agenda. I think gender is such a fluid part of someones character its a difficult thing to pin down. I would say that something that anyone, of any competence, would bring to the role is themselves and their personality. It's not a role that you go into pretending to be somebody else, that's what i find so absorbing about it. Hamlet is a role that demands that you bring out yourself and tear out your heart, laying it naked on the stage for the audience.

I totally agree, that's what makes each performance different, whether its Richard III or any of Shakespeare's plays, you have to bring yourself to the character.

Mark Rylance says very simply "You are enough" that is possibly the best acting advice that anybody can give. If you are not bringing yourself to the stage, whatever aspect of yourself, your shadow self or your experience you are telling a lie. Acting is not about lying its about finding the truth of the role. There's a lot to be said for imagination, of course because I am not a mass murdering, narcissistic psychopath, but imagination also stems from the self. Its a difficult thing to explain, that I can play Richard III a mass murdering, narcissistic psychopath and still be myself. But I think its true we all have these aspects to ourselves and our experiences that we can bring out. I wanted to bring a real human being to the stage and not a caricature. Its great that people are seeing it and saying "this is the most sinister Richard I've ever seen". But I wanted to bring a vulnerable human being to the stage.

So you are very much looking to challenge to perception of Richard III as a monster?

That's the point really, we dehumanise criminals and I do it, we all do it. If someone is a rapist or a mass murderer we dehumanise them in our minds and in the media. Its a difficult thing to admit that we are all part of the same race with the same human experiences and its human experiences that has driven them to do whatever they have committed. We are all still connected and all part of the human race. It's down to the choices that we make and the freedom to explore the unacceptable choice on stage.

The other aspect that fascinates me about the show is the breaking of the fourth wall. How do you involve the audience?

As the audience are coming in I greet everybody in character and in that moment I choose who they are going to be. Everyone has a little name placard with "Hello my name is.... the Duke of Buckingham" or whatever. So they are drawn into the world immediately before the play starts, depending on the physical layout, sometimes I have had to allow the audience to come in before, but generally I am there when they come in. There are 14 allocated characters, the rest are not named characters but they will become my soldiers, peasants, Lords, or whatever is required in the scene. Its interesting, it depends on the audience and pub theatre is great because people have often had a drink. Often I will ad lib with them and the show is designed so there are certain things that I will get the audience to do. I will try and get Lady Anne to come up on stage with me and Buckingham but also other characters as well to do very simple things that are easily directed. I had a lady in Edinburgh who knew the part of Buckingham and actually gave me lines back from the show. Its my job to be enough in character to be able to respond either from ab libbing or from the text, to respond to whatever the audience brings to it. The show runs perfectly and fluidly with nothing back from the audience but its still an immersive experience and they are still directly addressed. I will repeat lines back to them as if they had said them, which is something Richard does anyway and its a very minimalistic but effective form of immersive theatre. You don't need to take over a whole building for a piece of theatre to be immersive, you can just be there in one room and suddenly you are a part of the story. Richard has this unique relationship with the audience anyway that he makes you complicit with his actions. "I am going to do this awful thing, but come along with me because it will be fun" Right up to the point where he gets the crown, the thing that he thought will fill this gaping hole that he has, realises its not at all what he needed and he loses his shit completely. At that point he loses his relationship with the audience, where it starts to fall apart and thats an interesting turning point in our production. 

It sounds fascinating, its not necessary obvious that the audience are going to be involved to that level. I would imagine you either walk in and think "what have I walked into" or you think "I am really going to enjoy this" Have you had any audience members that have really not wanted to participate?

Laughs- Yes. There are a couple of interesting dynamics. What's really interesting generally is that even people who hate audience participation find that they're quite comfortable with this show because everyone is in it. We are all telling a story together. I've actually only ever had one incidence, thankfully she made it very clear before the show started, as I was giving out characters she just said "nope" absolutely refused to be given a character and sat through the whole play with her arms folded. So I gave her husband the Duke Of Buckingham instead and he loved it, you could tell that she was just mortified that he was getting up. That's really the only instance of complete refusal to be involved out of nearly 50 shows that we've done now. I have picked people from the audience to go and murder the two princes in the tower and its interesting the number of people that will refuse and not want to murder children. They are really facing their conscience and I reply and say "come on the moneys good" and they will actually face their conscience at that moment and say "no, I'm not doing it" But you get other people who are more likely to say "yeah, come on, bring it on!" There are other people who are insensitive that it is still a performance and get too involved. They will perhaps camp it up a little bit. I had a Lady Anne who heckled me throughout  the show, until I killed her, but this would carry on even in the scenes she wasn't in. When people take it that far the rest of the audience are missing out a little and start to find that annoying so I have to tame them. That Lady Anne I had to kill early! I don't just perform my part and keep the story going I have to keep everybody in control as well. Its a really interesting challenge for me because its generally different every night and the energy the audience brings is like my battery for the show and that powers me throughout. The person I choose to be Lady Anne is my conscience so the show is energetically different every night and often the performance can be wildly different. Not so much the text itself but the way its interpreted, sometimes the play is 50% comedy and the first half can be full of laughs. Other times people have come along to see Shakespeare and they can be very quiet and very intense but Richard III is a very funny play. It keeps me on my toes.

This must be an absolutely exhausting experience for you. Does your performance draw on all of your experience with performing Shakespearian plays?

Yeah, it's great ! But it is exhausting, the plays only an hour long but it feels like running a marathon, its the closest I'm gonna get to running a marathon. It's emotionally draining but also incredibly fulfilling.

Thank you so much Emily and congratulations on reaching your 50th Performance

You can watch the trailer for Richard III below:

Book tickets for Richard III (A one- woman show) here it runs at The Lion And Unicorn Theatre, Kentish Town from Monday 16th May to Saturday 28th May.

Official Images from the production

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