Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Written and directed by Kate Saffin, Now is the Winter. A below stairs maid gives us a unique perspective on the household of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in a skilled reworking of Richard III from a woman’s perspective.
Helen McGregor performs with precise diction and we are addressed directly. Full costume, warm lighting and a parlour greets us as the piece opens. This is the simple setting, the spring board for a loyal servant to bring us new and fresh experience of Richard, his rise to power and the unfolding tale of his life, and Shakespeare himself.
We have a kitchen-eye view of the key characters and also the world they inhabit. Our commentator has a keen ear for conversation and we are told stories by this oft-unnoticed observer. We hear of intrigue, of plots, of family politics, even of witchcraft! And yet there are simpler, telling observations, shared with us from an insightful witness. It is a clever and effective device in a theatre piece.
Many an actor on the Fringe could learn a thing or two from McGregor who holds the material confidently and delivers it with natural assurance. Callow often fires his Shakespeare like canonballs, McGregor has found just the right level for Saffin’s evocative, often sharp and witty script. There’s intense emotion, there’s humour, there’s eloquence.
Sound effects occasionally adorn the piece. They are as sharp and clear as the performers’ vocal delivery. It’s refreshing to see such care taken.
Many of the lines of Shakespeare, intended for the mouths of men, delivered through the mouth of a woman, take on different slants and import. They are often deepened. New meaning, new flavours, new levels can be found in Kate Saffin’s rendering and reworking. Her own crafting as a writer weaves seamlessly into the original text.
Perhaps the production is a bit too static at times and a little more movement would enhance the wonderful modulation in the text delivery.
This is RSC-level work, hidden in the depths of the Vault, and it deserves to be seen by anyone with a love of Shakespeare, or simply a love of beautiful language and a good story, delivered with consumate ease and skill. This is Shakespeare, but is also Saffin, and both are highly recommended by this reviewer.