Award-winning actor, director, and writer Camyar Chai is one busy theatre professional. Not only has he written King Richard and His Women, he is also directing and serving as scenographer for the upcoming Seven Tyrants Theatre production of his new play.
In Chai’s modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III, as Richard is wounded in battle, he is confronted and called to account by the women he has loved, hated and destroyed.
In this Q&A we find out more about King Richard and His Women from the playwright.
This interview has been edited.
How would you describe King Richard and His Women?
For theatre goers, I’d say it’s the beauty of Shakespeare’s distilled through a Brechtian lens, brought to life by a strong ensemble cast in a modern and provocative setting. For everyone else, I’d say it’s intense, different and wickedly fun.
What inspired you to write the play?
In 2005 I started my Masters in Fine Arts in Theatre at the University of British Columbia. So, no, it wasn’t the #MeToo movement. I was not woke enough back then.
In the first year of my directing studies, I had to pick two one act plays to stage. I was drawing blanks on the second one. The late Neil Freeman was my mentor for that assignment. Knowing my ability to adapt plays, he told me how, for years, he had imagined that a good adaptation could be created by stripping out all the men, other than Richard, from Richard III.
At first I was reluctant because I wanted a break from new play creation to focus on my directing studies. But, I loved Richard III. In fact, as an acting student twelve years prior, I had put it on the top of my list as roles I would like to play one day. Neil, who was also one of my acting coaches, looked at my list and, in his own wonderfully direct way, told me I would never play Richard in my life. So, at least I wanted to do a great adaptation to spite him. Joking aside, I was quite lucky to have him guide me through it and I ended up casting a young, brilliant performer by the name of Daniel Deorksen.
What research went into writing the play?
I read as many texts as I could stomach. Shakespeare’s original is three hours long, so admittedly the versions I disliked got a thorough skimming. I also watched a couple of the movies and read books like Antony Sher’s “The Year of the King’. I’m sure I read a few academic essays but in all honesty, I had the great luck of having a scholar and artist like Freeman backing me up.
What was your biggest challenge in creating King Richard and His Women?
I had to weed through a lot of language that I had to make sure I understood well. I had a hard time editing out great lines that I hadn’t written. I also had to create a good story arc and sound framework that allowed the play to be more than a college experiment.
What has it been like watching the actors bring your words to life?
It’s enough to know that I’m in heaven when it comes to the actors. I already mentioned Daniel. The four women, Leanna Brodie, Ghislaine Dote, Sandra Ferens and Linda Quibell are power-house performers. I’m a lucky dude. They are going to make me look good.
What do you hope to the audience experience will be?
I like to see myself as a medium rather than a creator and what I’m tapping into is an ageless allegory of the seeming incompatibility of power and compassion. I want the audience to be swept up in a timeless and stimulating hour of communal intrigue. I want us to look to see if there are cracks in the darkness that can let some light in. Thanks for that one, Leonard Cohen.
King Richard and His Women plays the Tyrant Studios (1019 Seymour St, Vancouver (above Penthouse Nightclub)) April 11-19. Visit tyrantstudios.com for tickets and information.