“I have the exact same spinal curvature as Richard. His chronic pain and shame are very real to me…” Exclusive interview! Last year, Kate Mulvany won acclaim in the role of Richard III for Australia’s Bell Shakespeare Company. So we felt it was high time we asked her Six Questions about Shakespeare…

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Photo by Prudence Upton

Which play or area of Shakespeare are you working on right now – and what are you getting from it?

“The next Shakespeare I’m taking on is still top secret, so I’m not allowed to share just yet. Sorry! However, I have just spent much of 2017 performing as Richard III for the Bell Shakespeare Company – Australia’s very own company devoted to Shakespeare’s works. It was an extraordinary experience. Although I am a woman, I played Richard as a man, which gave a further strangeness to the character. To hear lines of misogyny come out of the mouth of a female actor, playing them straight as a man, added a further ‘discomfort’ for the audience, I suppose. Lines that would normally get a bit of a sexist titter got nervous laughs or horrified gasps…

“It was a fascinating insight into gender, performer and audience relationship. I also worked as dramaturg on the production for two years before we started rehearsals, so that gave me a lot of time to really delve into not just Richard, but all of the characters in his life, and view them through this gender-bending prism.

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Photo By Prudence Upton

“I also have the exact same spinal curvature as the real Richard, so for the first time in 20 years as an actor I was allowed to fully reveal it. I have had to hide my scoliosis from audiences – usually with costuming and lighting and blocking. However, with Richard III, I was free to (literally) expose myself. The chronic pain and shame he refers to in the play are very real to me. Although I don’t agree with his politics, I can empathise completely with the way he walks in the world. I felt a very deep, unexpected, sincere care for him.

“As a result of this insight, I changed the ending of the play and gave Richard a soliloquy, after being wounded by Richmond. (I stole it from King Henry VI, Part III.) I had Richard start with ‘I have often heard my mother say I came into the world with my legs forward…’ and end on ‘I am myself alone’. I wanted Richard to use his final moments to question the audience on whether he was born a monster or made one by his family, and by society.”

What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?

That he would be part of my life at all! I grew up in outback Australia. Shakespeare was not an option for us at school – there was no access to any theatrical studies. But somehow, fate led me to studying drama at university in the city. And it was there that I was introduced to Shakespeare. I fell in love with the drive of his ideas, the muscularity of the language, the epic in the domestic, the domestic in the epic… Since then, I have found myself performing regularly in Shakespeare’s works – often as male characters. Cassius. Claudius. Richard. Lady Macbeth. I have no idea how I got here, but I’m so glad I did.”

Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?

“Richard III, physically. Beatrice, personally.”

Macbeth 2012 photo credit RUSH
Photo by Rush

If I ask you to give me a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to your mind?

“‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…’ (Macbeth). It’s a simple but profound favourite – heartbreaking and hopeful all at once.”

What’s your favourite Shakespeare-related fact, myth, story or anecdote?

“I love that Shakespeare was a bower bird. He borrowed from myths, legends, publications and anecdotes all the time. It means that when you read a Shakespearean work you get a whole treasure trove of other references that are all wonderful, timeless gifts from the playwright himself.

“I also love that Shakespeare was an actor. You can feel it in his words. He gives you lines and characters that you can’t help but feel he has said aloud as he wrote them – they trip off the tongue and curl round the mouth so addictively. And they are the basis of extraordinary characterisations and narratives that comes from an actor’s pen, fervently and subconsciously writing for himself…”

Julius Caesar 2011 photo credit
Photo by TBC

You have the power to cast anyone in the world (actor or otherwise) to play any Shakespearean character. Who do you choose – and which role do they play?

“Trump. As one of the Plebeians in Julius Caesar. But not one with any lines. Just to make him shut up and listen!”

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