All-female Richard III Interview: Yvonne Murphy on gender equality in theatre

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THE new production of Richard III at the Wales Millennium Centre is about breaking ground – from the all-female cast and crew, to staging in a distinctly non-performance roof space. I sat down with director Yvonne after opening night in a conventional theatre to discuss the challenges facing such an unconventional production.

“When I decided to do an all-female Shakespeare, there were lots of things I didn’t know. I didn’t know what text I wanted to do, but also why it was such a big thing to do an all-female production.”

So why did she settle on Richard III? “When we started we were working with lots of texts, and I kept coming back to Richard.

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The ensemble of eight actors have worked hard to challenge the predominance of male parts in theatre

“I was fascinated by the fact the women in Richard III are habitually cut – in film or theatre. I think women often hold the grief and loss and whilst that doesn’t drive the action, it holds the essence of the piece.”

“One actor said: ‘If you’re going to do this, go for something that’s got as many male parts as you can find, and challenge yourself’. So I decided to challenge myself and create as big an opportunity as possible.”

The process has been far from a walk in the park. When I dwell on her use of the term challenge, she leans forward in her seat.

“I’ve really challenged myself (laughs), and everyone working with me! It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done professionally – it’s challenged me to the core.”

We move on to the production’s staging – it’s unusual, in a roof-space area unused for performance before last night. “When we found this space we thought: ‘This is it’ – it was the world we were looking for.

“It has the sense of scale that the piece needs, and it’s industrial, dusty, and there’s lots of places you can hide in.”

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Changing physicality was a key part of the rehearsal process

Murphy takes a great deal of pleasure in the unexpected aspects of the production. Characterisation of male parts had to remain unchanged, but in rehearsals other idiosyncrasies emerged.

“It was to do with physicality – the presence men have. I was interested in how you take up space, and how you carry gravitas into a space.

“The ensemble found it difficult to do handshakes to begin with. Their handshakes were very feminine – their instinct was to move in very close – whereas the thing with a handshake is to keep distance, to protect yourself.

“It’s interesting how still men’s hands are in our culture, and how much women use their hands when they speak compared to men.” She chuckles at her own gesticulations by way of emphasis.

But the shift from the light-hearted to the weighty is quick. To Murphy, the importance of an all-female production is that it is seen as unusual.

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“We have to question as a society: ‘What are the barriers to women feeling able to take leadership roles?’.”

“This production is in part about that visibility. What I would like is not to have to write ‘all-female’ on my flyer.

“It should be the norm, something that no one blinks at, but I don’t think we’re there yet unfortunately. The more we do it, the more normal it will become. People find change difficult, but when you change it, they can’t remember what it was like before.”

 

 


Richard III (Omidaze Productions) runs at the Wales Millennium Centre until 09 Feb – 23 Feb 2015

10 – 23 Feb ’15 £12
Age Guidance: 10+

For more information head to the Wales Millennium Centre site, or Omidaze.