Richard III by Southsea Shakespeare Actors – Strong Performances, Even Stronger Women

For International Women’s Day, Andrew Larder watches the latest production by the Southsea Shakespeare Actors, Richard III, and finds a new way to perform Shakespeare. 

This week celebrates International Women’s day and Southsea Shakespeare Actors (SSA) have chosen to perform Richard III at the Square Tower.

Although this Shakespeare classic isn’t normally associated with strong female leads, the SSA’s new take on Richard III challenges Elizabethan gender roles.

One actor that stands out is Lauren Farnhill who plays Lady Margaret and is celebrating her 46th year with the SSA. Lauren told me that her first role was in 1972 as Catherine, a French Princess in Henry V. She was just 19 years old.

‘This is the third time I have played Margaret, who appears in three Shakespeare plays – Richard III and Henry VI, parts 1 and 2,’ Lauren said.

She enjoys the process of rehearsing, the company spirit and, of course, performing. Her favourite roles include Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing and, in this production, Margaret. Lauren has performed in countless SSA productions, but this may be her best show yet.

In Richard III, Lauren gives a powerful performance as an angry widow who warns us of Richard’s treacherous ways and curses anyone who sides with him.  Lauren explains that the role is challenging as she must consistently ‘fire off a series of insults about Richard.’ Her favourites include comparing Richard to a hunchback toad and a bottled spider. Commanding the stage, Lauren unleashes a maelstrom of emotions.

Richard III has a plot that would do Game of Thrones proud. There is murder, skulduggery, ghosts, battles and more murder. Written in 1593, for the court of the Tudor Queen Elizabeth I, the play portrays Plantagenet King Richard III as a twisted monster.

Two of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes feature in the play – ‘Now is the winter of our discontent.’ and ‘a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.’

There are some other strong women in the act. Charshy Nash, Sarah Parnell, Natalie Bartlett and Sue Bartlett play a variety of Queens and aristocrats. Betrayed, widowed and suffering the murder of their children, there is no holding back their feelings.

Charshy Nash, a delightful person in real life, spits on Aaron Holdaway who plays Richard.

The Globe in London, as we all know, was famous for staging Shakespeare’s plays where many men played female roles. Yet, this time, director Rob Bartlett has chosen to flip gender roles and, for many of the traditional male positions, he has cast women.

Vicky Martin, Ellen Giddey, Suki Jones, and Marta Valdearcos Gascon play male soldiers, murderers, messengers and guards. And, they play them well.

It’s more than enough proof that gender doesn’t affect strong writing and acting.

Image credited to SSA