Screening with Introduction: Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Rustaveli Theatre Company of Tbilisi, Georgia

On Tuesday 10th December, visiting REES fellow Dr David Maziashvili held a screening of Robert Sturua’s seminal Georgian production of Shakespeare’s Richard III at Ertegun House.

First staged at the Rustaveli National Theatre in Tbilisi, Georgia, this production met with huge critical acclaim when it appeared at the Edinburgh Festival in 1979. Despite being performed in Georgian and without subtitles, it proved immediately popular with UK audiences, thanks in no small part to its powerfully emotive cast, its strikingly brutalist set design, and its brilliantly expressive score. Sturua makes bold directorial choices throughout that highlight the topicality of the play’s political machinations to 1970s Georgia. Particularly vivid for me was the culminating battle scene, which Richard and Richmond fought with their heads through a giant, fabric map of England; as David explained, the map of England, turned on its side for this scene, is a kind of palimpsest of the map of Georgia, with the battle representing the historic political tensions that exist between the country’s east and west. The screening was preceded by a fascinating introduction to the Rustaveli Theatre Company, and the history of Shakespearean performance in Georgia, by Dr Maziashvili. Having grown up just a few miles from Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon, I’m acutely aware that I’m not best-placed to make claims for the bard’s universality; but Sturua’s Richard III impressed upon me, if not the inevitably timeless and global appeal of Shakespearean drama, then the capacity of individual plays to take on searing new relevance given the right place, the right time and, of course, in the right director’s hands.

Rachael Hodge