Creative Non-fiction / July 2018 (Issue 40: Writing the Philippines)

On Teroy Guzman’s Richard III. Manila. 30. 05. 2018.

by Andrew Barker

What sacrifice the task that you were set,
To make your Gloucester as you hate the man,
To not allow that Thing that you create,
The charm most actors spin as they perform.

For Richard you had little you could use
To prove your skills. Your spotlight? Others pain;
The shamelessness and arrogance of those
Impenetrably superficial men

Who boast before the blood upon the streets,
Indifferent to the wounds that they inflict.
You couldn’t use the chapped comedic beat
Of smart asides. How humble your restraint,

As actor handcuffed by the need to show,
The winter of our discontent is now!


Teroy Guzman’s Richard III is the most uncharismatic Gloucester I hope ever to see. And you really have to see the production in question to understand what a compliment that is, not only to the production itself, but to Guzman as an actor and a human being. Imagine getting one of those great Shakespearean roles and then not being able to “show your chops”, to “go full-Richard” as the modern phrase might have it. For what this production wants to do to succeed Guzman simply can’t do that. Any show of charisma by Richard in this production, any show, risks what the production wants to do. This is the greatest example of the main actor submerging himself for the benefit of the ensemble I’ve seen. That might not mean much coming from me, but Peter Holland, the director of the Shakespeare Institute, called the production the best example he’d ever seen of “speaking truth to power from the stage.” Now I don’t even want to guess at how many plays the director of the Shakespeare Institute, has seen but I’m willing to bet that that commendation is up against some pretty stiff completion. That’s no slight praise at all.

The power in question here is that of current Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte. The play is set in modern Manila. Guzman’s Richard is Duterte. Let’s set the actor’s dilemma addressed in this sonnet clearly: any time Guzman says anything funny, he makes his Richard slightly more charismatic, which makes him slightly more likable, which puts the audience slightly more on his side. And this production doesn’t set out to put the audience on Richard’s side at all. In any way! This production sets out to put the audience in exactly the opposite place. The production’s dramatic intention is overwhelming and absolute and urgent and every other consideration is of far, far less importance than showing the terror faced by many in the contemporary Philippines. This is not the place for the actor who wants the spotlight on ME.

But Richard is charismatic. The text makes him so. What to do?

For me the solution was ingenious. Richard becomes one of those people who thinks he is charismatic, and just isn’t. We all know the type. Guzman does a lot of work with the smile. Richard smiles a lot. Clarence has probably told him too. Guzman is a good-looking guy with a very warm smile. When Richard smiles, every smile shows teeth. He is the dog one step away from biting you. He has one of those smiles, (and this might sound very English), that turn his face into one you really want to slap. The spotlight here goes to Clarence and Buckingham. They are the bling. We have our eye on them. And in a side-comment worth making the director and actors in question did a fierce job of making sure we were attracted to these players. Our charmless Richard left no gap in the production and this is down to them.

The contemporary outside is not just the setting but the tortured star of this production. Richard is the supporting secondary villain. It takes a disciplined actor and humble human being, as Guzman so plainly must be, to take this role and so carefully makes sure that situation remains as it must.

“Now is the winter of out discontent,” ran the production’s last line. A line repeated again and again with the stress heavy on the first word of the phrase.


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