As York Dungeon reopens following a £2 million makeover, we talk to one of its newest residents… Richard III
After six months of hard work, involving enough screws to fill a coffin (that’s 14,000 as if you didn’t know) and more than 300 litres of paint the Dungeon is as good as new – or should that be as bad as new? Old favourites like Dick Turpin and Guy Fawkes return alongside new characters, scripts and sets.
The floods meant that “the Vikings were angry, Guy Fawkes’ gunpowder was soggy and no one could get the witches to light,” said general manager Helen Douglas.
“But we are back and delighted to welcome visitors in time for the Easter and summer holidays.”
To celebrate we caught up with one of the Dungeon’s most controversial – and newsworthy – characters, Richard III, also known as actor Bryan Heeley.
Have you always had a soft spot for a bit of death, torture and mayhem?
Yes. My youngest memory is being sneaked into a horror film. My formative years were spent watching Hammer Horror films and reading Dracula and Dennis Wheatley.
How did you get here?
I was born and bred in Rotherham where I attended South Grove Secondary School until 1970. Since 1970 I’ve been involved in professional shows. I went back to college to study Theatre Arts at the Rotherham College of Arts (the same coincidentally as Sean Bean!) In 1979 I became a professional actor and in appeared on both stage film and television (notable parts included featured roles in Rita, Sue and Bob Too and Revenge Of Billy The Kid. I was working in a theatre in Sheffield with an ex-Dungeon actor and then I saw they were advertising so I applied. That was ten years ago and I’ve been there since.
What was your first day as a York Dungeon actor like?
Fantastic. It’s always fun to meet new actors and get to grips with fresh scripts. I can’t wait to scare the public again.
Richard III: hero or villain?
A misunderstood man. There is no positive proof he killed his wife, his brother or the two princes. Shakespeare has a lot to answer for. Ask Macbeth!
Richard III: buried in York or Leicester?
He belongs in York of course. He loved the city and did many great things for it. Would you like to be buried near the scene of your greatest defeat? I think not.
How do you get into character?
I always look at the script. Are there clues to the character there? (After all the writer didn’t write the thing without some idea of what he had in mind.) Then experiment with the lines. You’d be amazed what Shakespeare sounds like as a Dalek! Then the costume affects your performance as does the set and your fellow actors and ultimately your audiences which, believe me, can be a sobering experience indeed…
What is a typical day at the Dungeon like?
You must be joking! There’s never a typical day. Every day is different. That’s what makes it exciting.
Do you go outside as Richard III?
During the audition process, we went out and about in York causing quite a commotion and attracting a crowd.
How do visitors react to a Dungeon trip?
Sometimes I think they are quite unprepared for what’s waiting for them in the Dungeon. However, once they get over the initial shock, they tend to enjoy the visitor experience joining in and having the time of their lives.
What’s the funniest thing about your job?
Watching grown men quiver when confronted by a clearly deranged person. The look of uncertainty is priceless.
What about the strangest thing?
How logic flies out the window. The simplest instruction such as opening a door becomes a regular Labour of Hercules.
What would you like to do next?
I’m perfectly content to remain lurking in the Dungeon thank you very much! (Unless the RSC comes a calling…)