Meet Shakespeare’s greatest villain at Maynardville

Maynardville will host one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains, Richard III, from tonight.

Since his first hunchbacked appearance in the 16th century he has been the man audiences love to hate. Even his mother disliked him.

Plumstead actress, educator and director Lee-Ann van Rooi is the Duchess of York, Richard’s mom. Richard III was born at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, on October 2 1452. Lee-Ann says Richard was unplanned, the runt of the four sons his mother bore.

As a mother herself, Lee-Ann struggled at times to get a grip with her character.

“Richard was born during the Wars of the Roses, violent times. The wars are over – the last battle at Tewkesbury. Every one is in love, enjoying life. In the opening monologue, Richard declares that he wants to be king. His mum wants to die peacefully, but how can she when her sons are fighting and killing each other?” says Lee-Ann.

“And Richard is the worst. He complains that he cannot perform in the bedroom,” says Lee-Ann. And she reads from the script during a break in rehearsals: “I that am an ugly hunchback who is rudely stamp’d, deformed, unfinish’d, and cannot strut before a wanton ambling nymph.”

For Lee-Ann, the most difficult scene, and her favourite, is when she curses Richard: “Thou camest on earth to make the earth my hell. A grievous burthen was thy birth to me; Tetchy and wayward was thy infancy; Thy school-days frightful, desperate, wild, and furious, Thy prime of manhood daring, bold, and venturous, Thy age confirm’d, proud, subtle, sly, and bloody. More mild, but yet more harmful, kind in hatred: What comfortable hour canst thou name, That ever graced me in thy company?”

Lee-Ann has performed at Maynardville before – in 1998 in Claire Stopford’s Twelfth Night and the last time was as Amelia in Othello.

Richard is performed by Alan Committee. This is the first time he will be performing at Maynardville.

In the past, audiences would have expected to see him taking part in Jesters in the Park. Instead this multi-talented Tokai actor takes on the role of the damaged, evil and yet charismatic, seductive and charming Richard III.

Throughout history, Richard has been portrayed as a monster of a man. Shakespeare depicts him as a hunchback although scientific
study shows the monarch suffered a common physical abnormality known as scoliosis.

Alan says Richard III is among Shakespeare’s biggest tragedies and the second-longest play after Hamlet.

“We are mindful that audiences binge watch, and so we have cut the text to two enjoyable hours that travel at pace like a roller-coaster ride. We’ve cut the script and doubled up roles by amalgamating some characters in a cast of 14 that include three UCT students and one recent graduate,” says Alan.

Asked if there are any parallels between Richard III and Defending the Caveman, Alan laughs. “Richard is certainly a man who is not good with women.

“The mother-son relationship is a complex one. She refused to love him, and this spoilt his way to having a relationship with people.

“He was power hungry. A bad guy. Not empathetic to women. So he was pre-caveman in many ways,” says Alan.

Richard III, part of the Maynardville Open-Air Festival, will run Monday to Saturdays from today Thursday February 7 until Saturday March 9, at 8.15pm. Tickets are R150 to R220. Book at www.maynardville.co.za