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March 31, 2011

WITH VIDEO: Sex, Blood, & Body Bags: “Richard III” Opens at Power Center

By Leslie Stainton

Nick Chesterfield, Propeller’s company manager, has a soft spot for the Power Center. It was here, in Dressing Room A, where in 2003, during the RSC’s run of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Nick learned that his wife, then 26 weeks pregnant, was going to give birth to a son. That boy is now seven years old and already showing a proclivity for the theatrical life, his dad says proudly. “He likes to stay up late.”

Nick is back in town this week with Propeller and happy to be here. By comparison to the RSC, his former employer, he says Propeller is “tiny”—just 14 ensemble members, a handful of stage managers and technicians, and no real home to speak of. “When we don’t have a show we don’t have a company. Our office is where we are. Our theater is where we are. The work is where we are.”

Right now that’s in the Power Center, where an appropriately powerful Richard III—full of blood and plenty of gore, but also, surprisingly and happily, quite a lot of laughs—opened last night. “It’s bloody, but it’s bloody with a twinkle,” Nick told me a couple of hours before the show, moments after the company had finished a long cue-to-cue rehearsal.

While technicians checked sound levels, secured the stage floor, and adjusted lights for the evening performance—Richard’s American debut—Nick talked about the production and the completely seductive way Richard worms his way into audience’s hearts. “You like him, and you’re horrified and repelled by him. He’s horrific but sexy at the same time.” Nick says he’s always interested in seeing how people react to Shakespeare’s most notorious king—and by the way they respond to the show’s considerable violence. Crowds in Edinburgh and Barcelona relished it. Nick was curious to see how the citizens of Ann Arbor would react (see the video below).

I guessed Nick could tell me a few details about the gore we see onstage in this ghoulish, oh-so-delicious show, and I was right. Here are three details to—dare I say?—savor:

  • Intestines. Specially created for this production, they’re made of sausage casings stuffed with Readybrek—an instant oatmeal, very powdery, which looks like “gray gruel,” Nick says. Coat them with blood, and you’ve got Buckingham’s bowels.
  • Blood. It’s washable, edible, nontoxic, and comes in three thicknesses, including arterial and veinous. Propeller goes through pints of it with every show.
  • Body bags. They’re “quite spooky” backstage, especially if you stumble over them, and the company buys them by the dozen. An unsettling revelation: “We’ve discovered they’re not as robust as we’d thought.”

And the chain saw? Here’s everything you need to know:


Leslie Stainton is the author of "Staging Ground: An American Theater and Its Ghosts" (Penn State, 2014) and "Lorca: A Dream of Life (Farrar Straus Giroux 1999)." She'll read from "Staging Ground" at Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor on Monday, November 3, 2014 at 7 pm.
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