King's Theatre, Edinburgh, and touring
After heartily enjoying The Comedy of Errors the previous evening, I was wondering what the dynamic all male troupe would do with this quite different and much more bloody tale. This production was equally strong, possibly even more original and unified conceptually. There was certainly the same level of intensity of performance, only this time it was dark, and there was comedy, but of a much darker hue to the companion piece.
Richard Clothier was The Duke. From the first second of his silver-tongued speech, his Gloucester had the audience in his grasp like the many characters he skillfully abused through the course of the play. It is one of Shakespeare's most well-known characters, but Clothier adds much of his own smoothness and humour to the part and really makes it his own.
Clothier with his blond hair, understated hunch and suave outfit might give the impression the production might be the sort to avoid too much messy blood but if you are going to see the production on the basis of the high body count, you will not be disappointed: while considerable amounts of text have been cut, the murders haven't been cleaned up.
There was plenty of violence and gore, with Buckingham (Chris Myles) meeting a particularly gruesome end. More disturbing than the violence though was the choice of setting, a Victorian asylum. The chorus were in gimp-like white masks and carried with them an array of disturbing murder weapons. And to add a little period fun, the murder of the Duke of Clarence was pure music hall.
Propeller's two plays complement each other really well by really bringing out the exuberance of the comedy on the one hand and in Richard III they keep the audience open mouthed at the horror. Essentially life and death. The other reason to see both productions together is to see the way the same ensemble creates two very different choruses.
While The Comedy of Errors was all energy, the white faces watching and abetting the rise of Gloucester create a creeping sense of menace to the production.
Well worth seeing both plays, though this one was perhaps the more impressive, but choose The Comedy of Errors if you have any aversion to blood.
Velda Harris reviewed this production at Sheffield
Reviewer: Seth Ewin