One of the few regrets I have from my days working as an actor was never having the opportunity to perform in a full length production of any works by William Shakespeare. Having been exposed to his plays from an early age — I was going to the Stradford Ontario Shakespeare Festival with my parents even before I was in high school — I never felt the same dread my contemporaries did when faced with the task of trying to decipher the meanings hidden within his text during school. In fact it was probably attending a production of his Richard lll during high school that inspired me to become an actor in the first place.
It was one of those weekday afternoon school performances, meaning the audience was filled with teenagers more interested in being released from the tedium of classes than in attending a play. When the lights dimmed - there is no curtain in the Festival Theatre at Stradford as they perform on a thrust stage similar to the kind used in Shakespeare's time - and then came up again to reveal the actor playing Richard (Brian Bedford), hunched under the weight of his humped back, dragging his leg behind him, his withered arm dangling uselessly at his side, nervous giggling broke out and spread like wildfire through the audience. He stood centre stage, and with the regal disdain befitting his character and station, he stared them all down until you could hear a pin drop. They were his for the rest of the performance, from the opening lines to his final plea of "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse".
Needless to say it's always been one of my favourite of Shakespeare's plays, no matter how historically inaccurate it might be. However, having been fortunate enough to have seen such a magnificent performance of it at an early age has perhaps spoiled me, for I have yet to see a performance, on film or stage, to match it. Yet, when I first heard that Ian McKellen had starred in a film version of the play, and helped work on adapting the script, I was intrigued. For some reason even though it was initially released in cinemas back in 1995, it has taken until now with MGM re-releasing their film version of Richard lll on DVD for me to see it.