R3: Year Of The King, By Antony Sher

I've finished reading this excellent book, and am seriously considering renewing it. It is truly compulsory reading for anyone interested in Shakespeare, acting, and Richard III. Antony Sher outlines in great detail the choices he made regarding the role's physicality and Richard's mentality.

Particularly interesting is his thorough research of disability and how that affected his performance. He makes the wry observation that other cripples and hunchbacks in literature, Quasimodo and Smike for instance, are played as good-hearted angels with capacities that are superhuman given their condition. Though the play's Richard has several traits considered unlikely for someone of his infirmity (one of Mr Sher's biggest problems with the role was how to consolidate someone of Richard's fighting ability with his physical disability), Mr Sher's interpretation was thoroughly unsympathetic.

Mr Sher also developed the concept of of psychopathy; he references several serial killers and literature on them. In the last few weeks of rehearsal he read a true-crime novel about the Yorkshire Ripper and took a lot of inspiration from it, to the point of other cast members becoming uneasy with his obsession with the killer.

The most distincitive aspect about Mr Sher's Richard was his use of crutches in the role, making him appear as this great huddled mass on four spindly legs. His inspiration for the use of crutches was partly inspired by the image of a 'bottled spider' which is one of the odder insults Margaret hurls at Richard. The crutches, which first make an appearance in the book before the role of Richard is even considered. greatly increase the physicality of Mr Sher's performance while at the same time making a more feasible and safe way to act the disability.

There were several other good things about the bokos, invaluable details about Richard and the acting process aside. There were several charming anecdotes about the Royal Shakespeare Company typical of what is ultimately a show-biz diary; his thoughts on the other projects he was working on at the time, most notably Tartuffe. Also, unexpected but not unwelcome, there were meditations about South Africa, Mr Sher's home land, which at the time was still ascribed to apartheid.

There's something of interest in this book for everyone. I recommend it highly.

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