Rose Theatre and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse Theatres in association with Swinging The Lens
Rose Theatre Kingston
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Director and lead actor Adjoa Andoh “doth protest too much, methinks” with her sympathetic take on the much-maligned Richard III? Does Shakespeare’s Machiavellian figure, Richard, have redeeming features? Is it his “vicious mole of nature” or a chip on his shoulder that turns him into a psychopath, scything down anyone standing in the way of his path to power? Plenty of those around today…
Is he the way he is because he was “othered’? Andoh draws on being “othered” as a young girl in a Cotswold village because of the colour of her skin. It’s obviously a project close to her heart. I recollect a girl at school being told she couldn't do English A-level because she was “foreign”. The glorious sixties in the English provinces…
Is Richard “othered’ because of his deformity? It’s not what I draw from this energetic three-hour production. It’s Cotswold mummers that seem to be its main underpinning, fluctuating accents and all.
Maypole, ribbons, tattercoats, Morris dancer’s sticks as swords, crowns of twigs, standard beige desert boots and off-white shalwar kameez uniform for all—Richmond’s opposing side in red. Bucolic, it could be Bohemia from The Winter’s Tale, or the Forest of Arden, or The Mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And there’s even a puppet of one of the Princes in the Tower—why?
There’s an air of an amateur production for and by the local village. Richard lays out his scheming ambitions in his first soliloquy—here it is sung. And the production ends with a joyful coming together Morris dance. Hastings has his head back—there is much chopping of heads in silhouette and poor Hastings’s is displayed. Coconut shy…
Mummers taking off their betters injects humour and comment but dilutes the tragedy of those who fall at the hand of the “smiling damned villain”. Peter Weiss’s 1963 play The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade briefly comes to mind.
Is it meta or is it Monty Python satire? Andoh’s performance is agile and epic but perhaps too self-indulgent—she overplays the Fool. Druids and magic, ghosts and superstition, fit well into her scheme of things, but I miss Shakespeare’s poetry.
The acting is committed if variable, as it might be when taking on double and triple roles (which might be confusing for some in the audience if they don’t know the play). Joseph Kloska (Buckingham), for instance, seems to have a smile playing on his face throughout, whereas Sam Cox (Stanley) plays it straight, as does Liz Kettle (Queen Margaret). Andoh gives a high-energy central performance. She is the maypole around which they all dance.
Amelia Jane Hankin’s economical set is beautiful and beautifully lit by Chris Davey. Yeofi Andoh’s musical composition and Benjamin Grant’s sound design are atmospheric and transportive. Andoh asks, “what happens when the person who is punched down, punches up…” Well, the creative team certainly “punches up” the production.
Reviewer: Vera Liber