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Set play

Richard III. Sheffield Crucible, March 13 to April 10

A combination of Kenneth Branagh's film fame and Michael Grandage's reputation as an outstanding director has made this a hot ticket. These two share an approach to interpreting the piece, with Branagh as the hunchback. It has often been played as black comedy, even farce, in recent years.

Grandage says: "It is called a tragedy and we have taken the title at face value. We wish to explore the tragic nature of this man, why he has to operate in extreme circumstances to further his lot in life. He is ambitious, he wants to be liked and he is severely disabled, all of which act as a catalyst in his need to further himself. Everything we do is textually based, but where the text provides psychological insight, we excavate it. This is a serious attempt to find the motivation for his actions. Otherwise it is a farce; he simply goes on a killing spree."

The behaviour of other people in the play towards Richard is crucial. "It is impressive," says Grandage, "that his own mother can only speak of him in a bad way. The attitudes of other people are fundamental. He is somebody who is deeply unhappy and he wants to address this. He lays out what he wants to do at the very beginning. That great opening soliloquy ("Now is the winter of our discontentI ") is a wonderful template. It tells you where he is and why he is going on this journey. By using the soliloquies we have tried to tell the story of what he wants to be. He is a larger-than-life figure, but we need to believe that some part of the human condition is being addressed in a naturalistic way."

Grandage has no wish, nevertheless, to deny the "natural comedy" in the lines, and he says it would be just as appalling to deny the play's theatricality.

The audience is complicit in Richard's actions. "He invites you into his relationship with Buckingham, and then cruelly rejects him. This, and the beheading of Hastings, have implications for the audience's relationship with Richard." In a play "riddled with the need to know what happens to every character when they die, Richard meets the end he deserves". Grandage sees Richard as highly political, "but there are times when he defers to Buckingham, a Machiavellian player. He knows he is out of his depth."

Similarly, in the wooing of Lady Anne, a scene often played with a nudge and a wink, even Richard is surprised at his success. Grandage has not chosen a specific period for the production but, he says, "the contemporary resonances will take care of themselves. It is very moral. Like all great drama it makes you hold a mirror up to yourself, not just sit back and observe."

Tickets: 01142 496000. Teacher's pack: 01142 495999

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