Aaron puts laughter on hold for his winter of discontent

Aaron Holdaway in the title role of Richard III by the Southsea Shakespeare Actors, at the Square Tower, Old Portsmouth, March 2018
Aaron Holdaway in the title role of Richard III by the Southsea Shakespeare Actors, at the Square Tower, Old Portsmouth, March 2018
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Aaron Holdaway has made a bit of a name for himself in these parts as a comic actor.

But for his latest role he's given himself a major challenge, taking on one of Shakespeare's weightier roles as the titular Richard III in the new production by the Southsea Shakespeare Actors.

The play focuses on the rise and fall of the scheming monarch during the War of The Roses. And as the second longest play in the canon behind Hamlet it's a huge part to learn.

'I think I’ve got 710 lines or something like that,' says Aaron, 'but it is important to say we have cut some of it so we will finish at a reasonable hour! It’s a big old beast though.'

While Aaron loves the comic roles he says he found himself 'a bit typecast.'

'I started acting on the advice of one of my English teachers and loved it and found a natural affinity for the funnier roles and playing the clown and things like that.

'I heard about the SSA, and went to an audition for Hamlet. They said: "What role do you want?" So I told them: "The gravedigger", and they were like: "Really? You don’t want more than that?" That’s the kind of role I like though, the part where you come out and make people laugh, and if you can make people laugh when you’re doing Shakespeare, you’ve really got it, and it’s a wonderful feeling.'

He won a Guide Award for Best Amateur Actor for his portrayal of Dromio of Syracuse in Comedy of Errors in 2014, 'which was lovely'.

And he was in last year's Loose Canon, which was nominated in this year's Guide Awards for Best Amateur Production.

'The opportunity came along with Rob Bartlett directing Richard III. I felt it was so different to what I normally do, but a lot of people said I should go for it, you should try something completely different, and here I am.

'It’s really important, if you are going to do acting, to challenge yourself and do new things It helps you grow as an actor. I would very much like to be a comic actor, but in order to do that, you need to see the other side of it.'

One thing often overlooked now is that Richard was only 32 when he was killed at The Battle of Bosworth Field.

'It’s really interesting, people have said to me: "Oh, you’re a bit young to play Richard III," because it’s been immortalised by people like Ian McKellen and Laurence Olivier, but I’m 31 so I’m actually closer to his real age then they were.

'We’ve done lots of research on Richard to really get to know the character, but this is Shakespeare’s portrayal so it’s obviously very biased.

'Shakespeare goes so far into the deformity and self-pity, so we’ve gone for him having a shorter stick that keeps me hunched over – so as well as learning the lines, and getting everything right there, there’s the physical aspect of it with the hunch.

'I’m not going to lie, it was quite rubbish when I started, but Rob’s been very good at working with me to find that physicality, and it’s now become sort of second nature.

'It all works with Richard’s character because he’s not an out-and-out moustache-twiddling villain – he’s cunning, he’s clever, he’s smart and funny and he takes the audience with him on this journey.'

And the play opens with one of Shakespeare's most famous speeches: 'Now is the winter of our discontent...'

'That’s one of the toughest things for me - the whole thing opens with that. Antony Sher said this amazing thing, that it was really inconsiderate of Shakespeare to open with the most famous speech in the play.

'It really is so much pressure on you when you start. But once again Rob has been amazing, we’ve tried several different ways of doing it, and we found a way that’s comfortable and fits the meaning and now I’m looking forward to be able to say that speech.'

The company have yet to rehearse in the venue, but Aaron can't wait to get into the Square Tower.

'We are nearly there, we’ve been rehearsing in our own space since December. On Sunday we get in to the Square Tower, I’m really looking forward to it.

'Of all the venues in Portsmouth, it’s going to be so iconic because we’ve gone so traditional with it. It’s going to be that sort of atmospheric production, and I can’t think of anywhere better for it.'

The Square Tower, Old Portsmouth

March 6-10