Sara Beer is back and ready to rule as she takes on the role of king in The Llanarth Group’s reimagining of Richard III next spring. Written by award-winning playwright Kaite O’Reilly, director Phillip Zarrilli brings his latest production to venues across Wales in March 2018.
Richard III: Bogeyman. Villain. Evil incarnate. Or is he? What if he is she? What if the ‘hideous…. deformed, hobbling, hunchbacked cripple’ is portrayed by someone funny, female, feminist, and with the same form of scoliosis? How might the story change, the body change, the acting change, the character change when explored by a disabled actress with deadly comic timing and a dislike for horses? How would previous star vehicle Richards measure up? Olivier, McKellan, Pacino, Sher – watch out – the mighty richard III redux has you in the frame.
Riotously inventive and joyously irreverent, richard III redux is not a production of Shakespeare’s classic, but an interweaving of stories about acting, difference, and a maligned historical figure told by unreliable narrator Sara Beer. She takes on Richard as a solo performer in a number of guises, interspersed with video and live camera sequences. The production will premiere at Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2018 and comes to the Torch Theatre on Wednesday 21 March.
This will be a homecoming for Sara Beer who originates from Pembrokeshire. Sara was born in St David’s and went to school there. She also attended the Torch Youth Theatre and still has strong links here.
What it’s like to be returning to your home turf, performing in front of your home audience?
I’m delighted to be returning home, it’s a long time since I have performed in Pembrokeshire and it is very special to be at the Torch during its 40th year. I have happy memories of performing in a production called Never Laugh at Live Dragons, in 1979 so it’s taken a while to come back!
For the past 10 years you’ve been working with Disability Arts Cymru, a national, disabled-led organisation that supports disabled people to engage with the arts. What’s that been like, can you tell us a little about that?
I am the South Wales Regional Officer so I support disabled artists in my area, promote disability arts events and run projects. The huge variety in what we do means it is a great place to work. Disability Arts Cymru has been in existence now for 35 years, creating opportunities for disabled people to participate in the arts and also providing training and advice for arts organisations across Wales. I am extremely grateful to them for allowing me the time off to be able to do other projects, I am very lucky.
As any former schoolchild who learnt by rote will remember, ‘Richard of York gave battle with Wales’ – Richard III met his end at the Battle of Bosworth, the decisive last battle of the Wars of the Roses, which established Welsh born Henry Tudor, as Henry VII, first monarch of the Tudor dynasty. In this production you explore (among other things) the Welsh contribution to the fate of the historical Richard III, and his immortalisation as the ‘‘hideous…. deformed, hobbling, hunchbacked cripple’ of Shakespeare’s play; without giving too much away how does this show prise open the historical Richard behind the Tudor propaganda and the villainous caricature?
We are looking at other historical accounts of Richard, it’s hard to compare medieval Kings, they were all a blood thirsty lot, but some say that Richard was actually quite popular with the public. Shakespeare of course painted a very negative picture but Welsh records from the time were also very un-complimentary. The whole Welsh connection is extremely interesting so there are references to that in the play.
There’s been a lot of debate recently in some of the welsh media about diversity, representation and appropriation in drama; can you tell us a little about how this production explores these relevant issues, from the perspective of disability?
One of the personas I play explores how non-disabled actors have recreated Richard’s impairment over the years and also discusses my own experiences as a disabled performer.
In this production, you will be adopting a number of guises, and also incorporated pre-recorded video and live camera sequences. What are the unique challenges and opportunities of fronting a one-woman show as opposed to a more conventional full cast production?
A one-woman show is certainly a challenge when it comes to the number of words to learn! However playing different personas helps to break up the script and the video sequences will also assist in giving me time to take a breath. Even though I am the only performer the stage manager, captioner and camera man will be on the edge of the stage so I won’t be completely alone. It is a treat for a performer to have the opportunity to work so closely on a story they want to tell. It will be a challenge but one I am looking forward to very much.
Can you tell us a little about your creative partnership with playwright Kaite O’Reilly, how did it begin?
I first met Kaite 30 years ago when we were both working with Graeae Theatre Company in London. In 2008 with members of Disability Arts Cymru we did a rehearsed reading of Kaite’s award winning play, ‘Peeling’. I was one of the performers Kaite worked with when she was creating her ‘d’ monologues which became her National Theatre Wales production, ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ in 2012. In 2016 I was fortunate to work with Kaite and director Phillip Zarrilli on ‘Cosy’, Kaite’s Unlimited Commission that was performed at the Wales Millennium Centre. Kaite is also Patron of Disability Arts Cymru so over the years has run workshops for members of our Unusual Stage School and young writers across Wales.
You attended the Torch Youth Theatre. What advice would you give any young people interested in working in theatre?
Becoming involved in a youth theatre is a great way of discovering which areas you are most interested in as well as where your talents lie, it’s important that you learn as many skills as possible. More than ever before companies are looking for multi-talented performers. You also need to be realistic about how difficult it might be but work hard and don’t let anyone talk you out of it, it’s a hugely rewarding career.
The Llanarth Group Presents ‘Richard III Redux’
Torch Theatre on Wed 21 March 2018, 7:30pm.
Tickets: £11.50 Full | £9.50 Concessions
richard III redux OR Sara Beer [IS/NOT] richard III is a Llanarth Group production and is kindly supported by Arts Council Wales.
Tickets are available from the Torch Theatre Box Office on 01646 695267 or online at http://torchtheatre.co.uk/