Shakespeare's 'Richard III' With An Unexpected Twist At CCTC

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Topics: Local Theater

Jim Byrne as Richard, Emily Murray as Buckingham and Tammy Harper as Queen Elizabeth in “Richard III.”

Consider Shakespeare's "Richard III,"abrutal political satire written in 1591. What comes to mind? Ruthless ambition, jealousy and hunger for power? How about puppets?
Presented by Cape Cod Theatre Company, Home of Harwich Junior Theatre (at The Arts Center on Sisson Road in Harwich Center) as a Punch and Judy-style puppet show with actors, the comic tragedy unfolds in a hilarious knock ’em, sock ’em, drag-out fight for the kingship – complete with beheadings, hangings, poisonings and even a burning at the stake. It’s Shakespeare as you’ve never seen it before.
Jim Byrne is the magician behind this unique, must-see production. Byrne brought forth the unlikely vision from his imagination to the stage, creating the set, costume and puppet design and even portraying Richard himself.
"I always wanted to do 'Richard III.' It's one of my favorites of Shakespeare's plays, so brutal and also so funny sometimes," Byrne explains. "As I was considering a production of the play, I noticed how the female characters in the play really popped out, with so much drama and internal life, while the male characters seemed so cartoonish, so thinly drawn and one-dimensional, just going after power. The male characters seemed to just come and go, they tried to climb the ladder of power and just got knocked off. I thought, how would it be to really focus on what the women go through in the play, while the male characters become almost like a Punch and Judy puppet show? It opened up the possibility of creating the play's violence, beheadings, burnings at the stake and so forth in a way that you couldn't get away with using actors."
Byrne recalls always loving puppets as a child, creating shows of his own as early as the age of eight. It came naturally to him to focus on the women and childrten in the play as real people living in a puppet world of mayhem, while the male puppet characters, insane and bloodthirsty, vie with each other for power.
Working with puppets added a new dimension of challenge to the formidable task of producing one of Shakespeare's longer plays.
"I spent a lot of time showing the actors how to work the puppets. Of course in a production like this you must learn your lines first, then add the puppet work," Byrne says. "You obviously can't hold a script while working with a puppet. I am excited to have this opportunity to use puppetry, one of the many theatre tricks that I love and which work so beautifully onstage."
"Richard III" opens at The Arts Center, 265 Sisson Rd. In Harwich Center, on Thursday, Nov. 17 at 8 p.m. for a short run. Seating is limited and there will only be a few additional performances on Friday, Nov. 18 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 20 at 3 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 21 at 3 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 25 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 27 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for youth (under 21).