Richard III

William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

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Michelle Terry as Richard Credit: Marc Brenner
Michelle Terry and Helen Schlesinger Credit: Marc Brenner
Sam Crerar as Richmond Credit: Marc Brenner

There are lots of murders, a fair amount of comedy and some audience participation in the Globe’s fast-paced production of Richard III. The speed can mean words sometimes run into each other and It does eliminate some memorable lines such as Richard’s desperate cry of “A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse”, but it also reduces running time to 160 minutes.

The central stage presence is a confident Michelle Terry in the role of a male Richard who is part of a culture that oppresses women in a manner emphasised by the import of the occasional Trump mannerism and language. And just so we bear in mind the prejudices of our local politicians, Richard refers to the “scum from Calais”.

However, gender politics are lightened to gentle mockery for laughs rather than drawing out the horrific treatment of women as property to be owned and disposed of at the whim of men.

The almost entirely female cast does include a watchable, measured performance of Marianne Oldham as Queen Elizabeth and Joanne Howarth covering for an injured actor as Duchess of York, but in part that was because they didn't rush their words.

The performance removes any reference in words or appearance to Richard’s physical disability. Instead, the focus is on his cynical struggle for power in which he may one moment seem friendly to somebody and the next casually have them killed.

The dead victims exit by a trapdoor on the floor of the stage, only to return in a final scene with dried blood spattered across their clothes to haunt Richard in a dream before the battle.

Unfortunately, we are given little reason to oppose the killings or sympathise with the victims, though Clarence is given a bit more space to speak before death. Even that scene contains the strange twist of the killers putting pig masks on their faces that they have to raise whenever they speak.

Among other deaths we wouldn’t normally see in a production of this play is the killing of the young Princes, shown first playing with toys moments before Tyrrel (Catrin Aaron) gently zips their double sleeping bag to imply their suffocation.

To lighten the mood, there are comic dances that include Richard merrily dancing with fully-robed clerics having agreed to the mayor’s request he be crowned King. The audience in the rain-drenched yard is even invited to crouch in honour of the man. On press night, those not leaning against the edges of the seating area crouched or knelt in amusement.

The fluffy gender politics will mildly amuse, and the pacing with its creative tense musical score will hold the audience’s attention. However, what is most noticeably missing is the fine, often witty rhetorical speeches that can be the most exciting experience of time spent with Shakespeare’s Richard. Unfortunately, Michelle, a generally fine actor, tends to flatten their delivery and occasionally shout sections of them.

In contrast, I was riveted by Sam Crerar as Richmond, giving a powerful expression of the play's final speech. More speeches by other actors should have been given the space to breathe.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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