By Danielle Farrow
Now is the Winter opens verbally as does Richard III, but these famous words are spoken by a faithful servant, Bess, truly celebrating the Yorkist win in the Battle of the Roses. Bess goes on to chart events as her master Richard of Gloucester becomes Richard III, with what befalls thereafter.
The play is performed in an intimate space, where a raised dais within black-curtained walls is transformed into a kitchen area. A table laden with preparations and other stage-dressings including fruit and vegetables and implements such as a besom and a cooking pot are all put to good practical use during the performance. There are some sounds off as stimuli and a few imagined off-stage characters with whom the servant relates. Via the use of eavesdropping and these one-sided conversations, the serving-woman uses text from Shakespeare’s Richard III to tell his tale. What would be sardonic humour and lies in the Bard‘s ‘Tricky Dicky’ becomes her genuine views on what is happening.
Helen McGregor has a good gossiping tone on occasion, rooted in a genuine character, and manages a moving ending, with clear-spoken intelligences given to her audience throughout. Some of this clarity is over-played in the slightly pedantic telling with a great deal of mini pauses. For a while the manner in which the servant gains her knowledge was not clear and timings became confusing. The deaths of the princes – even if Bess would not know details and even if there is some question over Richard’s culpability – was completely missed, which is very surprising. The language, though handled with confidence, includes some strange verbal mixings due to changes in person not being matched by a like change in Elizabethan grammar. A little more liberty with Shakespeare’s text could free up some of the appropriated lines and mention made in publicity material leads to an expectation of more examination of Richard’s historical culpability – perhaps not really possible when so tied to the Shakespeare text.
Overall, though, this is a quietly entertaining play, with humour and pathos, and the music and preparation of foodstuffs creates a fine period atmosphere. Good use was made of the eavesdropping as questions develop for Bess and McGregor’s solid performance creates a comforting atmosphere which she can then contrast well.
Now is the Winter has a fireside feel and draws the audience into the household world of a major historical / literary character with a calm assurance and some interesting angles.
4 – 29 August, 12:30 (13:30) @ Assembly Hall