NOW IS THE WINTER
…of our discontent played out below stairs.
[Please note, this production is not currently available to book]
Bess, a loyal servant of Richard, Duke of Gloucester watches her beloved master rise to power only to see her world unravel as naked ambition takes over. A striking reworking of Richard III by Kate Saffin. Although away from her usual setting of the waterways, the play still celebrates ordinary women doing extraordinary things – even if only fictional.
Writing Now Is The Winter
Controversy about whether Richard killed his nephews in the Tower, if not actually raging, certainly still exercises the minds of many. Shakespeare’s play (whether accurate on not) is a powerful example of propaganda through the arts. ‘Richard killed the princes’ passed into the nation’s collective conscience and has been firmly stuck there ever since. The last 50 years has seen a number of challenges to this and there are many who feel there is evidence that he wasn’t as wicked or deformed as the play portrays him. In reality, contemporaneous evidence is thin and the question ‘did he, didn’t he?’ will probably never be answered conclusively and provide fertile ground for exploration, speculation and… writers.
The origin of this play lies in a moment at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2007 when I thought: ‘That soliloquy is such a wonderful speech, it’s a shame only men ever get to do it’… and it set me wondering how it would sound if delivered by a woman. As a woman, not merely a female actor playing Richard. And who that woman would be and why she would be saying those things…? I began to see different possibilities and shades of meaning in the text, and thus was Bess, and Now is the Winter conceived. Gestation took a lot longer and became a collaborative effort with another actress and performer, Helen McGregor.
I wanted to explore the play and Richard through the eyes of this woman, a servant, someone who could move freely around the castle or palace, who would be invisible much of the time because they were a servant. In reality it is a device – most servants of any standing in a 15th century household would be male, women were only found in the laundry or the nursery, so in my mind Bess had been in the nursery when Richard was a child.
As the work progressed it became both harder and more exciting. Harder because as the play proceeds and Richard becomes more introverted and secretive in his actions it was sometimes difficult to see how she might have been party to his actions and thoughts. More exciting, because Helen and I were also reading a lot of the literature
surrounding Richard and his life and times and found we were challenging Shakespeare’s view of Richard through the medium of his own text.
Now is the Winter does not aim to be a potted telling of Shakespeare’s play but to turn the accepted view of Richard as villain on its head through the story of one very loyal servant. A servant who has known Richard for all of his life, who adores him and has quite a lot to say about the world and people she sees about her; who has her own view of this complex man…