Shakespeare Richard III

Melanie on Finally Appreciating Shakespeare

I am no Shakespeare fan and this is obviously not a reflection of his work, but my perception of it. It has always felt too cryptic for me and my teacher at school failed to ignite my interest in it. The most Shakespeare I’ve read, was when I studied ‘The merchant of Venice’ for O Levels (yes O Levels).

In class we were given characters to read out loud and we would plough through the text. During one lesson, I was totally distracted, as usual, gossiping away with my friend at the back of the class, when my teacher shouted ‘right Sykes, you can read the character Gobbo’. I was mortified at the time, but now I just think how funny and brutal she was, and I bloody well deserved it!

So, this week I decided to do a little experiment. I saw that Ralph Fiennes was playing Richard III at the Almeida Theatre. I think him one of the finest actors on the planet and the prospect of being in his presence was irresistible, but could I enjoy it without being totally across the dialogue?

My ex-husband, who is an actor, told me that one of the greatest performances he has ever seen of Shakespeare, was in Japanese, that the performance transcended the language.

With this in mind, I booked my ticket and cheated a bit by taking the advice of Gaby Roslin who said ‘read the synopsis so you know who the key characters are; concentrate; stay with it; and then something extraordinary will happen and you’ll be completely there’, and she was right.  It was gruesome and raw, and I was totally enthralled. I laughed and I cried, and although the play is almost three hours in total, I was riveted from start to finish.

Ralph Fiennes is the master of his craft and I feel honoured to have watched such a powerhouse performance. And as for Shakespeare? Well, never again will I say I am not a fan of his work, and that for me is thrilling. As they say, everyday is a school day.

Richard III, Almeida Theatre, running to the 6th Aug 2016.