The drama has its origins in the unlikely setting of a Leicester car park in September 2012, where the remains of a body were uncovered. With death obviously caused by scything battle wounds and a skeleton that clearly showed the curvature of the spine, historians had a hunch that this grisly discovery might be the final resting place of royalty; they could feel it in their own bones that this was no mere commoner, but none other than King Richard III, the last English king to fall in battle and the last regent of the Plantagenet dynasty.
Since the historic Battle of Bosworth in 1485, the legend of Richard III has taken several twists and turns. Immediately after his death, his Tudor successors and a leading historian of the day, John Rous, portrayed Richard III as a freakish and murderous individual. This probably culminated in the Shakespeare characterisation a century later of a witty yet malformed machiavellian malefactor, ruthlessly clawing and cackling his way to the throne: “Why, I can smile and murder whiles I smile.”
The dramatic unveiling of the DNA test results in February this year proved beyond reasonable doubt that the excavated remains were indeed those of Richard III and reinvigorated the cause of the Ricardians: people who are hell-bent on altering what they see as the grotesquely unfair reputation the king has received and wish to portray him in a more sympathetic light: as a king who took arms against a sea of troubles. Indeed, the Richard III society were actively involved, together with Leicester University, in the testing and exhumation.
It is with these events in his mind’s eye that Barry McKenna, with a bit of help from the good bard himself, has put together an entertaining medley of Shakespearian scenes and sonnets in the performance piece Digging up Shakespeare.
The plot introduces us to renowned archaeologist and fervent member of the Richard III society Madeleine Entwistle. Fresh from her heroic exploits in Leicester as one of the leading lights in the rediscovery of the lost king, she has hotfooted it back from Richard III’s gravesite to wonderful Copenhagen with the aim of breathing life back into Shakespeare and exonerating the much maligned monarch. With the postulation that Shakespeare’s portrayal of Richard III as some kind of grotesque clown is a bone of contention, the academic attempts to convince the audience that Shakespeare was equally expert in exposing the fool in every single one of us. In the words of Shakespeare: “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
However, perhaps there is something rotten in Denmark after all, as the plot takes a sudden, dramatic and unexpected twist. Maddie gets a dreadful message from Rigshospital: her dedicated troupe of stalwart thespians have all been seriously injured whilst rehearsing the final swashbuckling scene of Hamlet, presumably somewhat over-enthusiastically!
What can she do? She has no choice but to enlist the help of two most unlikely and unwilling volunteers …
Featuring the “three old fossils” themselves; Barry McKenna, Andrew Jeffers and Sue Hansen-Styles, the Why Not Theatre Company’s talented team temporarily leave the moorings of the Bådteatret in Nyhavn to bring the bard’s works back to life in ten 70-minute performances as part of the CPH:STAGE festival. The twice daily shows from June 5 to June 9 at Teater Huset on Rådhusstræde will hopefully bring the undoubted prowess of the small cast English theatre groups in Copenhagen even more into the limelight and give the expectant audience a chance to put the long winter of discontent behind them.
The Why Not Theatre Company has been bringing top quality productions to Danish audiences since 2007 and Digging up Shakespeare, with its hand-plucked scenes from Macbeth, Twelfth Night, King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet is sure to prove that all the world’s a stage and send you out into the post-performance streets proclaiming in your best Laurence Olivier tones: “A horse, a horse. My kingdom for a horse.” Although a taxi will do just as well.
Digging up Shakespeare
Underkanten, Teater Huset, Rådhusstræde 13, Cph K; starts Wed, ends June 9; daily performances Wed-June 8, 17:00 and 19:30, June 9, 11:00 and 14:00; tickets: adults 150kr, under-25s 80kr; www.whynottheatre.dk