One of the most exciting aspects of sitting in on rehearsals throughout the lead-up to Richard III is being able to see how the play changes as it progresses. The most obvious change between rehearsal and performance is the presence of costumes and make-up, since neither of these aspects were a crucial part of the rehearsal process. This addition was evident on opening night, particularly on Sarah Fallon (playing Margaret) and Miriam Donald (for the Duchess). Both of these women are older characters, so the actors decided to show this through cosmetics and costume choices.
Even on opening night, there were other significant changes to the play that had nothing to do with its material elements. During Margaret’s cursing scene (1.4), Ben Curns (Richard) spit out his drink in Sarah Fallon’s face after she lashes a series of curses at him and others. During rehearsals, the two never practiced this or acknowledged that this would take place in the performance, so I found myself wondering if Sarah was as shocked as I was in that moment! This visual and aural effect created a powerful statement to the audience about Richard’s mental state during Margaret’s rant against the Yorks, where he does not have many lines.
Another change came later in this scene when Sarah chose to jump on the table to yell her insults at Rivers and Grey, creating a different power dynamic than the actors had previously rehearsed. While Margaret is the center of attention in this scene, during rehearsals she was physically on the same level as the other characters; yet now her elevation communicates to the audience that she is the most knowing character in this scene, because many of her curses prove true by the end of the play. Her insult to Elizabeth: “die neither mother, wife, nor England’s Queen” comes to apply to many of the women by the play’s conclusion. This staging choice highlights that while Richard’s war is ultimately against men, it is often the women who prove to be his most vocal and demeaning foes.
When rehearsing this scene, Miriam pointed out that she (as Grey) and Gregory Jon Phelps (as Rivers) have little to do or say throughout this scene, and questioned whether they should be sitting at a table, center stage. The company decided to keep this prop in place because they felt it made the most sense for the scene’s opening. This decision forced Margaret to stand to the side of the table during her lengthy passage cursing everyone in rehearsal. Now, they have eradicated this problem through Margaret’s forceful jump atop the table to deliver these powerful lines. Sometimes these changes come from audience’s response to a character, or from practical concerns such as movement and costuming that may not have been evident in rehearsal. Regardless of their purpose, these minor changes affect the way the actors tell the story, and I look forward to seeing what else they adapt as the production moves forward.