Even COVID-19 couldn't keep Richard III down.
William Shakespeare's manipulative, murderous monarch returns, lean and mean, in Rockspeare: Richard III.
Lakespeare & Co.'s slimmed-down, 90-minute version of Shakespeare's play is being produced in collaboration with Event Audio Visuals Services (EAVS) and is presented by the Where You Are Festival with the support of the ACT government.
Director Lexi Sekuless says COVID-19 changed Lakespeare & Co.'s winter plans.
"We were going to do a bespoke show in the National Portrait Gallery," she says.
Because of the changed circumstances that didn't turn out, but when Events ACT decided to put on the Where You Are Festival, Lakespeare & Co. received funding for a production a few weeks ago and it has been put together quickly, on a professional production schedule (the actors will be paid).
Since Rockspeare: Richard III was being staged in the Live In Ya Lounge studio at EPIC, usually a music venue, Sekuless says, "We decided to do something with a rock angle and a strong modern angle."
Richard III begins with a stylised representation of the decades-long Wars of the Roses and the apparent peace that ensues. But, then as now, political factional players are never at rest.
The king's youngest brother Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, covets the throne and will stop at nothing - scheming, manipulation, seduction and murder - in order to seize it.
Dene Kermond is playing Richard III, his first time in a role he's wanted to perform for years.
Shakespeare's portrayal of Richard - politic at the time he was writing when a different royal house was in power - is of a man deformed both in body and character: a hunchback who schemes and manipulates his way to the throne.
Kermond says the more he's dug into Richard and his story, the more he's found complexities in a character who's usually read as "very, very villainesque".
He says the production is aiming for "a more empathetic look at Richard and his experience".
Richard, he points out, is a great fighter despite his physical limitations and actively takes part in battle.
"He gives so much to his family line to sustain it," Kermond says,
He gives so much to his family line to sustain it. He's also incredibly intelligent and witty in terms of humour and strategies.Dene Kermond
"He's also incredibly intelligent and witty in terms of humour and strategies.
"We're constantly playing to that as it is indicated."
There's poignancy too as Richard is all too aware that because of his physical defects he has long been looked down upon, even by his own family, and is unable to find love.
Staging the play has proved tricky in the time of COVID-19 because of the need for social distancing on stage.
The actors may need to wear mouth-covering bandannas in some scenes.
Kermond says of the social distancing, "It has been a challenge for me as an actor because I'm a very physical actor."
He says, "I think of myself as a tactile actor - touch is important as a tool."
Words have to come from and through his body, he says, with physical expressiveness combining with the verbal.
Atmosphere and character are also evoked through the music and costumes which Kermond says lean towards glam rock and goth rock.
One of his costumes has a little jacket with long spikes coming off it.
Richard is very much the central character of Richard III and the editing has emphasised this.
Sekuless says she wanted to keep the action moving so she "cut out the scenes where people stop and give comment on Richard".
The idea was to keep the play active rather than reflective and keep things flowing.
"We're really focusing on the factions," she says, particularly Richard and his allies.
Comparing their actions, plotting and betrayals to modern-day politics shows, she says not much has changed in the last 400 years.
Sekuless has cast mostly local actors in the production - including herself as Lady Anne, a part she played in London at the Globe. Not only did she know the role well but she wanted to avoid forcing another performer to act the role as she did it. Also in the cast is Sydney actor-director Christopher Stollery, who directed Lakespeare & Co.'s Twelfth Night in 2019.
While the free summer shows of Lakespeare & Co. will be subject to COVID-19 restrictions, Sekuless indicates they will continue but says the comedies will remain the focus for those productions.
"Comedy is more family-friendly."
But there will always be other outlets for the rest of Shakespeare's canon.
This streamed and live adaptation of Richard III is evidence of that.