Sarah Lambie

Review: Richard III

8:48, 26th March 2019

Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s most notorious villains, and in this touring production from Headlong, directed by John Haidar, Tom Mothersdale’s ‘bunch-back’d toad’ self-congratulates gleefully in asides to the audience as he violently tricks, lies and manipulates his way to power. The physical deformities adopted by Mothersdale do indeed render him spider-like, and also shorter than every other character he encounters so that, while he is menacing, his childlike weakness and desire for approval (whether that should manifest itself in love from women or love from the audience) is a constant undercurrent.

At the newly reopened theatre in Alexandra Palace, where I saw the production, the sheer size of the venue somewhat dwarfs Chiara Stephenson’s design. The touring set will fit beautifully in other venues: must, for example, have brought a real intensity at the Bristol Old Vic, to which it returns later in its run, but in this incredibly high-ceilinged, 900-seat space much of the claustrophobia dissipates into the air. Having said this, the design itself is very successful, with two-way mirrors set in a horseshoe focussing the beam of the action on a central point which is occupied throughout the first half by an ever-descending crown, found after the interval on Richard’s head.

Sound design, by George Dennis, is also used to great effect: a ticking intensifies at points in the plot which creates a terrible sense of the inevitable, first of Richard’s rise, then of his fall; and Elliot Griggs’ lighting which largely avoids the mirrors in the first half, focusing a beam for the most part on the central hanging crown, is used to great effect in the second half to back-light a realm beyond-the-living behind the mirrors, where the increasing number of Richard’s dead enemies and perceived threats gather to stare him out as his confidence and sanity slip away.

Besides Mothersdale, there are strong performances from Stefan Adegbola as a preening Buckingham, making a grave error of judgement in trusting a man whose only loyalty is to himself, and Michael Matus, as Edward and later Stanley: his final speech as Edward building beautifully in passion until he is struck down by a heart attack, and his quiet uncertainty and mistrust of Richard underpinning his whole performance as Stanley until, inevitably, he switches sides in the Battle of Bosworth.

The production will continue to tour, returning to the Bristol Old Vic before visiting the Cambridge Arts Theatre; Home, Manchester; Oxford Playhouse; and Royal & Derngate, Northampton, closing on 25 May.

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