Richard III in the gardens

PUBLISHED: 11:04 09 July 2008 | UPDATED: 22:02 15 June 2010

King Richard III may not be one of Shakespeare s best known plays but the events it portrays are some of the most familiar in English history.

King Richard III may not be one of Shakespeare's best known plays but the events it portrays are some of the most familiar in English history.

It contains the story of the two little Princes in the Tower and the culmination of the Wars of the Roses between the rival houses of Lancaster and York, with Richard's defeat at the battle of Bosworth Field.

With the consequent rise of the Tudor dynasty, these were just two of the pivotal events which changed the course of history and to which Shakespeare gave his own interpretation.

The play is this year's choice for the Northcott Theatre's 14th open-air Shakespeare in the Gardens production in the atmospheric surroundings of the wooded moat of Exeter's Rougemont Castle. It runs from July 17 until August 9.

Appropriately, in a co-production with Ludlow Festival, Ben Crocker's production has already opened at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire, which, together with Rougemont, Shakespeare mentions in his tragedy.

A number of quotations from the play have become familiar as part of the English language, not least the opening lines 'Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York' and Richard's cry 'A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!' as he fights bravely on foot at Bosworth.

It is a matter of dispute as to whether Richard was the black hearted villain painted by Shakespeare, a characterisation still popularly recognised today, or whether he was a capable ruler who behaved no more ruthlessly than others of his age. Shakespeare certainly relieves his black portrait by bringing out Richard's wit, courage and freedom from self delusion.

Exeter Northcott's open-air productions have a reputation for being action-packed and very accessible for even those most averse to Shakespeare.

On staging the play both in Exeter and Ludlow, Ben Crocker, the Northcott's artistic director, said: "Working in the open-air is very liberating. The elements, the sense of place and the sheer scale makes contact with the audience very different. I love the immediacy of this al fresco collision between the actors and audience."

Once again this will be an event not to be missed so book tickets now on (01392) 493493.

John Dalton

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