Being Richard III has been a king-sized pleasure

5 Mar 2014 @ 9.19 am
| History

mike-bennett-headshotAs Mike Bennett steps down from his role running York’s Richard III Museum, he reflects on 20 years of playing the king

When I first took over the lease for Monk Bar I was surprised to find that Richard III added the top storey in 1484.

I was also surprised to find out just how much interest there was in Richard III. I didn’t know he had a worldwide society dedicated to rebuilding his reputation.

Three years after opening the museum in 1993, I decided to write and perform a show called An Audience With King Richard III, where the controversial monarch attempted to answer the charges made against him by history, and indeed Shakespeare.

I went on to perform An Audience With… for ten years, both at the museum and at Yorkshire venues including Ripon Cathedral, Bolton Castle and Middleham Castle, Richard’s childhood home.

Dressing as Richard III several times a year gave me a double identity, which I admit I did enjoy.

People thought I was Richard III, listened to my opinions and asked to have their photograph taken with me. I was once asked for my autograph so I signed it Richard Plantagenet.

At the end of one performance, a woman in the audience even asked if I was the reincarnation of Richard.

There was always a question and answer session at the end of the show and my favourite question was probably when someone asked: “Is there any truth in the story you had a relationship with your niece, Elizabeth of York, after your wife, Anne Neville, died?”

A fair question, but asked at the same time as the controversy in US politics involving Bill Clinton.

Thinking on my feet I was able to reply: “Listen, I did not have sexual relations with that woman!”

Most of the question and answer sessions I largely played for laughs feeling that if people left the performance in a good mood, that would encourage them to say positive things about it.

Famous fans

Nearly as good as Mike… Robert Lindsay as Richard III in the Royal Shakespeare Company's 1998 production
Nearly as good as Mike… Robert Lindsay as Richard III in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 1998 production

Over the years I ran the museum I met a lot of Richard fans, known as Ricardians, all of whom were extremely passionate about their favourite King.

One dedicated local supporter was the late Dorothy Mitchell from York, who led a successful campaign to have a window dedicated to Richard III in York Minster’s All Saints’ Chapel.

Two more supporters were Philippa Langley, who was responsible for the campaign to dig up the Leicester car park, and Dr John Ashdown-Hill, who drew up the family tree enabling one of Richard’s descendants to be traced and have his DNA matched with the bones.

Famous visitors to the museum have included Robert Lindsay, who was playing Richard III at Stratford and bought gifts for his cast in the shop, Rik Mayall, Mark E Smith from The Fall, and Limahl, from Kajagoogoo, who argued about the price of a very old book!

It’s been an interesting and exciting 20 years and I will miss Richard III, but I hope his story will continue to fascinate visitors to Monk Bar.