Mulvany, who spoke to Sydney Opera House just before rehearsals were due to start, says she’s not yet sure how she’ll deploy her scoliosis in the production.
“It’s strange because it’s something so common to me and something that I’ve hidden so much as a performer that it’s going to take a lot of, ironically, nerve to actually find that in the rehearsal room. But I have said to Pete and our movement director Nigel Poulton to go for it; light me and show me any way you like. Because I’m not afraid to show my scars and my quirks.”
Shakespeare exaggerated the real Richard III’s physical abnormality, making him ‘deformed, unfinished’ and a ‘poisonous bunch-backed toad’ so as to better characterise him as a villain. His villainy is directly attributed to Richard’s deformed body; “Since I cannot prove a lover… I am determined to prove a villain,” Richard tells the audience in the soliloquy that opens the play, thus making him one of the many characters of stage and screen whose physical impairment drives their malevolence – think of The Phantom of the Opera, the Elephant Man and Disney's Captain Hook.
It’s a vexed issue in our era of disability rights. Mulvany’s personal experience gives her a completely fresh take on the matter - she wonders whether Richard, like her, suffered chronic pain and if so whether it was this agony that drove him towards his awful decisions. “I can be pretty evil when I’m sore,” she jokes.
But how does she feel uttering Shakespeare’s sharp words – describing herself to be ‘so lamely and unfashionable that dogs bark at me as I halt by them’?
“I love those lines,” she says. “I don’t call myself those things but other people do. The amount of doctors surgeries that I have been to or conferences where I’ve been gotten up naked in front of people and they’ve poked me and said ‘this deformity and that deformity’. Deformity is not a word that I use, to me it’s my body,’ she says, adding she’s proud. “I wish they’d say ‘this pride of her’s here.”
Bell Shakespeare’s Richard 3 is at Sydney Opera House from 25 February until 1 April