KARACHI: It takes exceptional talent and some out-of-the-box thinking for a single actor to stay on stage for an hour and keep the audience glued to their seats, listening to every word that the character utters, even if a major chunk of the audience is not familiar with the text used by the actor.
It happened on Sunday night when Emily Carding played, nay reinterpreted, Shakespeare’s Richard III all by herself in the National Academy of Performing Arts’ (Napa) Zia Mohyeddin theatre.
But wait? Was she alone on stage? No. Before she began portraying Richard III, she invited, in certain cases, got hold of, more than 20 members of the audience to sit in the chairs placed on the stage. She turned them into the play’s characters. For example, King Edward IV sat on the extreme left chair, and Lady Anne Neville was sitting in the hall, right in front of the actor so that Richard could address her while looking straight into her eyes. Once that was taken care of, the play, directed by Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir, began.
How did it begin? For a couple of minutes, there was eerie silence in the hall. Carding sat in her revolving chair, looking at the rest of the characters with unwavering concentration, as if she had known them for a long, long time. Once she managed to get the right kind of ambience for her performance, she started to say her lines as Richard: “Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this son of York...”
It was obvious by now that Carding interacted with the other (mute) characters by saying Richard’s lines not expecting a response from them. So, what she did was that she would approach each one of them, when there was a need for approaching them, and gesture them to stand up or follow her instructions. For example, Richard steps down the stage and walks towards the audience to convince Anne of his love. Anne (a flummoxed theatre lover) follows Richard’s instruction rather gingerly.
Richard III is the story of a scheming man who leaves no stone unturned to become king. He hankers after the English throne even if he has to kill his brother, which he does, and killing people is no big deal for him. He is a bitter person. The bitterness also stems from the fact that he has a deformity (hunchback) that makes him feel ugly. And yet, he says simple but loaded lines such as “Richard loves Richard, that is, I and I.”
This is where Carding’s performance was so absorbing to watch on Sunday. Yes, there is a fair degree of maliciousness to Richard. Yes, he is an abominable creature. Yes, he is greedy and wants power come what may. But Carding also shows the human, a bit vulnerable, side to the character. She doesn’t go overboard with his out-and-out villainous mannerisms. The audience can see a man (played by a woman, interestingly) who can emote without being too emotional. Therefore, while the actor’s performance was top-notch, it is her interpretation of the character, for which a great deal of credit should go to the director, which needs to be commended. Only, if the audience that had come to see the play, were familiar with the text!
Richard III was part of Napa’s ongoing international theatre and music festival.
Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2018