Richard III

William Shakespeare
Guildford Shakespeare
Holy Trinity Church, Guildford

Timothy Allsop as Richard III

This magnificent Georgian church (formerly Guildford’s cathedral) has seen so many theatrical deaths and murders in the last three years that it would not be a surprise to find it haunted, and the settings this company produce are so atmospheric I feel sure that last year’s ghost of Hamlet’s father is still lurking in the shadows. With Richard III they have brought a few more along to join him.

The many complicated relationships within the text are not always easy to follow, but the programme helpfully contains a genealogical plan of the houses of York and Lancaster and there is a notice board in the entrance hall showing pictures of the main characters—paintings of the originals as well as photographs of the actors—and this is well worth perusing before the show begins.

Director Caroline Devlin, who brilliantly directed last year’s Hamlet, has returned (as have many of that cast) and has used the architecture of this beautiful church to superb effect with the area of the chancel as a backdrop where, on its dome, are the inscribed the words Glory, Honour and Power, power being the only one to which this Richard aspires.

If the deformed body which nature has bestowed on him makes courtly love impossible then “I am determined to prove a villain”, and prove it he does, killing off anyone who might get in his way to the throne and putting the blame on others. The machinations and ‘spin’ with which he and his courtiers manage to fool the public bring to mind many of today’s dictators and politicians—sadly!

Timothy Allsop is a compelling and fascinating Richard, a murderous villain certainly, but Allsop also finds the vulnerability in this tortured soul and enough charisma to persuade Augustina Seymour’s Lady Anne to marry him even though he murdered her husband and the wooing takes place over the corpse of her father-in-law, King Henry VI, another of his victims. Seymour made it obvious at their coronation that the crown lay very heavily on her head.

Having dispatched brother Clarence (Matt Pinches), with a trick which caused his ailing brother King Edward IV to die, his attention turns to Edward’s young sons and he gets rid of them too, an event which has gone down in history as ‘the princes in the tower murder’.

Johanne Murdock is superb as the boys’ mother, Queen Elizabeth, heartrending as she pleads to see her sons, but this is a strong woman and she forcefully expresses her fury and heartbreak at the boys’ deaths. This, though, is a woman in a man’s world with no power to fight back and in desperation she is even willing to let this monster marry her daughter for the sake of keeping her alive (although that would guarantee nothing).

Basically an ensemble production, but some performances stand out. James Sobel Kelly is a very credible Lord Hastings and with perfect diction, also as servant Tyrell, and James Chalmers is loyal almost to the end as Duke of Buckingham—all in due course eliminated.

Sound and lighting (Matt Eaton and Declan Randall respectively) are brilliantly inventive and superbly effective, and fight director Philip d’Orleans comes into his own as a full scale battle rages all around so we are not just watching, but almost part of the action.

The final irony is Richard’s frantic cry “My kingdom for a horse”—the kingdom that he has plotted and murdered to achieve not nearly so important now as he is about to meet his end.

The enthusiasm of this talented, young, enthusiastic and energetic company is infectious and the audience are already looking forward to the next production which, in strong contrast, will be The Merry Wives of Windsor in Guildford’s Castle Grounds.

Box Office: 01483 304384 or www.guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk

Reviewer: Sheila Connor