Trial of Richard III

Courtrooms are full of drama, and through this unique event we're giving the audience the chance to reinterpret Shakespeare through a theatrical and legal lens. As a barrister, I'm used to performing in court, but taking on the West End stage is a whole new challenge. I’m excited to play a part in this unmissable event. - Sallie Bennett-Jenkins QC

The backstory

On Sunday 29 April 2018, SSF held a unique West End fundraising event, Trial of Richard III at Delfont Mackintosh’s Novello Theatre.

The evening united a killer cast of actors from stage and screen, star silks, a high court judge and young people from our nationwide Festival.

In total we raised up to £50,000 for the charity as well as securing features in The Guardian, The Times and an appearance on BBC's The One Show with our young performers - a first for SSF!

The concept of putting a Shakespeare character on trial stemmed from early work in 2011 with the formidable John Kelsey-Fry QC. Romeo was cleared for the murder of Tybalt with Lydia Wilson portraying a sympathetic Juliet as she took to the stand in Gray's Inn, in front of an audience of QCs, solicitors and supporters of SSF. The charity discovered there was something really fascinating about exploring Shakespeare’s plays through a legal angle and went on to try Macbeth (played by patron Christopher Eccleston) for the murder of Duncan at the Noel Coward Theatre in 2015. Marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016, our next trial saw Hamlet take to the stage for the murder of Polonius. The Danish prince was played by SSF patron John Heffernan.

This year's case and the legal team

This year, it was Richard III's turn to defend himself against accusations of murder - of friends, heirs and wives. Coined “the most anticipated trial in UK history”, the king was questioned in front of a jury-audience of over 750 people.

We were thrilled to welcome back Court of Appeal Judge Lady Justice Hallett to preside over the case. Hallett played a key role in the burial case of Richard III’s remains, which were found under a car park in Leicester. Joining her were the formidable prosecuting team of Ian Winter QC and Jonathan Laidlaw QC, who brought a convincing case to the stage.

However, it was the powerful defence team, John Kelsey-Fry QC and Sallie Bennett-Jenkins QC, who sealed a verdict of not guilty for the King. Many audience members were surprised by their own convictions: “I still can’t believe I voted not guilty!” - Dave Benson-Phillips.

Our Young Performers

We were thrilled to welcome three schools to the event, who transferred their performances from our 2017 Festival to the stage.

St Francis of Assisi Catholic Primary School opened the evening beautifully with a fun and informative reminder of where the trial was placed in history. West Lea School combined Disney and rap in an unforgettable telling of the friendship between Richard III and the Duke of Buckingham. Lastly, Newlands Girls School joined us all the way from Hull to tell the story of the relationship between Lady Anne and Richard through a fantastic example of ensemble work.

This is a wonderful opportunity for young people from the national Shakespeare Schools Festival to tread the boards alongside celebrity performers and top criminal barristers - all in support of the Foundation's work with 1,000 schools every year. - Rt Hon Ed Vaizey MP, Jury Member

The Cast

We were delighted to have been able to cast rising star and SSF alumnus Caleb Roberts in the title role.  For him, taking part in our Festival was life-changing:

I caught the acting bug in 2008 while taking part in Shakespeare Schools Foundation’s annual Festival. The charity transformed my life by making me more confident and empowering me to follow my dreams. This is what they do for thousands of young people every year, who then go on to follow a range of diverse paths and careers. - Caleb Roberts

Caleb is soon to be performing at the Duke of York in Sir Ian McKellen's King Lear. His story demonstrates just how powerful the Festival can be for young people, increasing their ambition and raising their aspirations. Through the process of performance, thousands of children every year find the confidence, resilience and communication skills to propel them onto their next steps in life. They learn to be the empathetic, collaborative team players, building their skills to become the confident employees that our society needs.

Alongside Caleb, we welcomed a host of celebrity actors to the stand to provide evidence for and against the King.

David Oakes (Victoria, The White Queen) as Duke of Buckingham opened the evening with a strong, witty performance of  disdain towards the King. Kae Alexander (Ready Player One, Game of Thrones, Fleabag) reminded the audience in her take on Lady Anne just how complex the relationship between King and Queen had become, whilst the Dirty White Boys (Chazz Redhead and Jack Robertson) told a hilarious story of the “murder of Clarence” ordered by Richard himself. Tony Gardner (My Parents are Aliens, Fresh Meat) as Clarence made the most unconventional of entrances to the courtroom. It turns out, contrary to the history books, that Clarence didn’t in fact drown in a butt of Malmsey wine. Rather, he had been in Ibiza partying, and loved his brother dearly. The prosecuting team weren’t so keen on Clarence.

​It’s a pleasure to be working with Shakespeare Schools Foundation again having previously played Banquo in the Trial of Macbeth in 2015. The entertaining and innovative nature of these trials echoes the core beliefs behind the work SSF does. They use creativity and ingenuity to provide young people nationwide - regardless of their background or ability - an opportunity to express themselves and to build their confidence in a way that will stick with them throughout their lives. Inspired by recent occurrences in a Leicestershire carpark, the SSF intends to dig up Richard III, again! As the Duke of Buckingham, I’ll be taking the stand against my sometime ally, but it will be down to the audience to decide the King’s fate. Following Macbeth’s acquittal in 2015, who knows whether we'll agree with Shakespeare’s verdict this time around! - David Oakes

The Jury

SSF patron Hugh Dennis (Not Going Out, Outnumbered) hosted the event as our jury foreman and asked our jury panel for their take on the case. Dave Benson Phillips stated Richard III would ordinarily be gunged, but on this occasion he was surprise to vote not guilty. Other jury spokespeople included Rt Hon Ed Vaizey MP, journalist and SSF patron Lindsay Johns, Emily Carding who is touring with her own one woman show of Richard III, Professor Russell Jackson (dramatist to Michael Grandage), scientist Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, businessman Tim Campbell MBE and actress Athena Stevens.

Thank You

Thanks to the generous support of Delfont Mackintosh theatres and our sponsors, BCL Solicitors, Mischon de Reya, BML Legal, Cloth Fair Chambers and Linklaters, we are able to raise crucial funds to fulfil our mission. This year we will improve the life chances of young people from all over the UK - from Bristol to Belfast, Exeter to Edinburgh.

A very special mention has to go to Elayce Ismail, our Director. Elayce was simultaneously directing other shows in Newcastle and London whilst working with us. Do check out her upcoming show Nanjing at The Globe later this month.  Thanks also to playwright Jonathan Myerson, who we were thrilled to hear was tickled by the humour in Richard III and a car park!

To learn more about the event, you can watch our film via trialofrichardiii.org

SSF is a cultural education charity that exists to instil curiosity and empathy, aspiration and self-esteem, literacy and teamwork - giving young people the confidence to see that all the world is their stage.

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