New Diorama Theatre
Theatre company The Faction opened Richard III this week at the New Diorama Theatre to run in repertory with an exciting season of solo plays.
This is not the first time that director Mark Leipacher has addressed his talents to Richard III but, whereas before he directed and played Richard, here he has relinquished the title role to the very able Christopher York who makes a convincing ambitious, murdering villain.
From the outset, a battle scene admirably set by fight director Kevin McCurdy, this production bears the hallmark physicality we have come to expect from The Faction.
As the production progresses, it fulfils The Faction's promise of innovative staging also. Without a single prop or stick of furniture, using their bodies, the cast create everything that is needed from Richard's horse to the battlements of the Tower of London.
There is a particularly striking tableau of Hastings's dismembered head propped between dark crenelations.
Leipacher gives the cast latitude with Shakespeare's rhetoric and on the whole the complex narrative develops clearly. Partly this is also thanks to Leipacher arranging the cast about the stage even when they are not in a scene so that they can be identified by Richard as the play proceeds.
Associating the name to a face early on in a play so well–stocked with characters is a benefit to those coming new or rusty to Richard III, but the off–handed way vile Richard points to them hints at their fate and makes it clear he won't be letting them get in his way to the throne.
The size of the cast—21 in total—minimises the doubling of parts and this too contributes to the clarity of a story that frequently references events that took place before the action of the play, some of which was recorded by Shakespeare (after a fashion some would say) in his earlier history plays.
Discovery of the remains of Richard III led to something of a reappraisal of the man's character and in its wake it underwent a rehabilitation from disfigured malefactor, unjustly painted by Shakespeare to butter up the Tudors, to a portrayal nearer the truth, or at least one more balanced.
It makes Leipacher's choice to have Christopher York play Richard with an impermanent deformity an especially interesting one.
Hooked on to Richard's description of his own practice, "[I] will cry 'content' to that which grieves my heart, and wet my cheeks with artificial tears, and frame my face to all occasions", York transforms from vigorous manliness to scoliotic with twisted fingers on the end of a distorted arm.
It is not always obvious what these Jekyll and Hyde transformations turn on but York carries them off creepily well. They are part of an arsenal of inventions that continue to make this an energetically fresh, exciting and approachable Richard III.
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti