Richard III – February 2008

10/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Michael Boyd

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Friday 22nd February 2008

This could take some time. When we saw this play previously, just over a year ago, it was at the end of a long Saturday seeing three plays, having caught Henry VI part 1 the night before. I was tired, it took ages to catch up on my notes, and although I enjoyed it, I only gave it six stars. A year later, and with the cast having re-rehearsed all the plays only last month, it’s almost a different production. I’ll put in as much as I can of the staging, but first I have to say this was just about the best Richard III I’ve seen – it ranks up there with the ESC’s Wars of the Roses and Andrew Jarvis’s performance, and probably tops it in some areas.

To start, the lights go down, and I could see at least one character walk past us on the walkway for the opening. When the lights went up, there was Richard himself, standing roughly in the middle of the stage, as he was at the end of Henry VI Part 3, cradling what appears to be a baby in his arms. To our left, on the walkway, stands a boy, dressed in the white of the “good” characters, presumably the young Prince Edward. This is clarified when Richard indicates the young man as “this son of York”. It’s a nice touch, especially when the young lad comes over to his uncle, who puts his arm round him. Richard’s lines are spoken jocularly to the prince, and after “the lascivious pleasing of a lute”, the youngster runs off stage, and Richard can get down to the business of being a villain, which he does so well.

The cloth he had been holding at the start was bundled up to look like a baby, and right at the beginning he flicks it out, as if throwing the child away. He then tucks the extra large napkin into his collar, as if about to have a meal. While talking to the prince, he’s all smiles and charm and playfulness. Once the prince leaves, the darker side comes out, and there’s an element of temper in his railing about his deformities. Yet he’s also a thinker, and a layer of plots, as we soon see. Clarence arrives, and the ubiquitous Antony Bunsee as Keeper-of-all-things (in this case, Brakenbury) appears at the balcony to take Clarence into his keeping at the Tower. I should mention that this production is predominately modern dress, but the keeper character is wearing much the same red outfit as before, only with trousers. There are one or two other variations, but I’ll deal with them as I go.

Richard and Clarence mainly talk at the front of the stage, and Richard is loud enough to be easily overheard. He seems straightforward enough – concerned for his brother, and convinced the queen is behind Clarence’s arrest. Brakenbury’s intervention is delivered in an unemotional way, almost flat, but Richard gets as much humour as he can from the word play. Richard’s little asides after Clarence is taken off are starting to show the playfulness of Richard’s villainy, and after greeting Hastings on his release (and giving him a gun), he continues in this vein. The lines “What, though I kill’d her husband ….husband and her father” got a good laugh. One nice touch – when Hastings steps out of the Tower, he’s holding a clear plastic bag with his belongings.

Henry’s corpse arrives, carried on a stretcher by a couple of bearers, and with other men holding up Henry’s picture to the audience as they go. Ann appears (on the balcony, I think), and tells the men to set the body down so that she can deliver her speech to it. She makes the customary mistake of uttering some curses, and those of us familiar with the play know that she’ll be the one to suffer for it.

When Richard arrives, he has several armed men with him, and forces the bearers to put the body down. They withdraw pretty sharpish to the back of the stage, leaving Ann, down now from the balcony, to confront Richard. I don’t remember if these men leave now or later. She lifts the sheet off Henry’s face and chest, exposing the wounds, still bloody, and getting bloodier by the minute, as Richard’s presence makes them gush again.

The wooing scene was very good. Ann is obviously swayed by Richard’s flattery, for all the insults she hurls at him. Mind you, he does a good job, always putting her beauty at the centre of his argument. Even so, I noticed he had to do some rapid deflections of her attempts to stab him with his own knife, otherwise the play would have been over sooner than expected. She’s not completely won over at the end, but not far off, and I was thinking how a system of arranged marriages amongst the nobility probably makes this kind of thing more believable. After all, she probably didn’t really love her husband, the Lancastrian Prince Edward, and a lot of her grieving could just be a formal display of respect. In those circumstances, it might be easier to move on to another husband, although she has gone for the worst possible choice. Richard has his men take Henry’s body to a different place than Ann had planned – his men put the stretcher down, turn around, and pick it up facing the other way – and then we’re left alone with him to enjoy his reaction to his success. This was really good, and showed how much this portrayal has come on. Jonathan Slinger worked this speech much more with the audience, and brought out all the character’s thoughts and his own amazement at how well he’s done. He can appreciate how outrageous her conversion is, far more than the woman herself. Of course, he knows he’s lying, and she isn’t sure, but even so.

At the palace, the queen and her family are discussing the situation. The queen is troubled by Edward’s ill health, and despite their attempts to comfort her with thoughts of her son being Edward’s heir, she’s smart enough to realise the danger she’s in. Richard arrives, complaining about being slandered because he’s such a straightforward chap who “cannot flatter and speak fair”, which we’ve just seen him do, and do very well, with Ann. His bare-faced cheek, obvious to the audience, is very entertaining. He manages to get everyone in a tizzy, and provokes the queen to wish herself “ a country servantmaid” rather than put up with these attacks. The previous queen, Margaret, sneaks on to the balcony at this point – the rest are down below – and comments on the brawling.

Richard lets rip with all his resentments. He’s helped the king get his crown by fighting, risking his own life for his family, and now the queen and her family, supporters of Lancaster, are reaping the rewards. They respond in kind, though not with kindness, and eventually Margaret steps forward to have her say. Katy Stephens played this part magnificently. From her start in Henry VI part 1 as a drop-dead gorgeous starlet in a stunning red dress, through the battling queen in armour of the next two plays, to this greying woman, dressed all in black, and wearing a large bundle wrapped round her torso, she’s conveyed a tremendous emotional journey. OK, the woman’s another villain in a sense, killing just as happily as this Richard, but she’s always had the total conviction of her right to rule. It just so happens that in this culture she needs a king for a husband to be able to do that; nowadays she’d just sleep her way to the top of some big corporation, getting rid of her opponents on the way. Or perhaps she’d marry an aspiring politician? Anyway, it’s a great performance, and the emotional truth came across every second she was on stage.

For her cursing of those present, she drops her bundle, and lets the rotted skeleton of (I presume) her son Edward, fall out onto the stage. There’s a predictable reaction from the other characters – they step well back, and cover their noses. It’s an ugly sight, but shows Margaret’s craziness and obsession beautifully. She lays her shawl out on the ground, and as she curses, places another part of the skeleton in place. The ease with which she finds the relevant bones suggested to me that Margaret’s done this many times before, and that in itself is chilling.

She’s really rattled when Richard interrupts her final curse, but still manages to snap back at the others when they snipe at her – Richard’s intervention has given them back their confidence. When Buckingham comes over to her, trying to persuade her to shut up, she’s friendly, as she hasn’t been hurt by him or his family in the past. She kisses his hand, and as a friendly gesture, warns Buckingham to beware of Richard. He rebuffs her by responding, to Richard’s enquiry, that he doesn’t respect her. With no friends at all in the palace, she leaves, after a final prophesy that Buckingham will regret his choice. At least she stopped them bickering among themselves, but how long will that last?

Catesby enters to summon them all to the king, and all leave except Richard, who gives us a rundown of his technique for causing trouble. At the front of the stage, two men arrive, coming up the centre aisle. They’re in suits (brownish or grey?), and wearing glasses. They look like contract killers, and they turn out to be the two men whom Richard has hired to bump off Clarence. Their lack of compassion pleases Richard, and his “I like you, lads” was very funny. When one asks for the warrant they need in order to get at Clarence, Richard realises he’d forgotten it, and pulls a bit of paper out of his right hand pocket. As he walks forward to give it to them, he remembers it’s the wrong one, and gets the paper from his left pocket instead. We’ll understand the significance of that later.

As they leave, and the keeper brings on the bed and a stool for the prison cell, I realised that this play links thought and action very closely in time. Richard plans, and almost immediately he does. In other versions, I’ve been more aware of the long journey he needs to make to get the crown. Here it seems really quick, as the pace is so fast.

Clarence is in bed, asleep, with Brakenbury sitting on the stool beside him. Clarence makes some noises, then wakes up, drenched in sweat. He recounts his dream to Brakenbury, and as he does so, I found myself wondering if Will had come across a story of a near death experience and decided to dramatise it. What also comes across is that Clarence feels the weight of his sins lying heavily on him. He goes back to sleep, and now the two murderers turn up, looking menacing. Brakenbury clearly knows there’s something unpleasant about to happen, but there’s nothing he can do about it, so he takes himself off. The two murderers go through their preparations, and as usual, there are a lot of laughs to be had from their struggles with their consciences. The first murderer reminding the second of the money they’ll get for the murder soon sorts him out, and gets the expected laugh. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed the company of murderers and villains so much in a long time – this was the funniest version of this section that I’ve seen.

Unfortunately, they’ve taken so long chatting that Clarence wakes up, and does his best to talk them out of killing him. It doesn’t work, of course, although it does slow them down, but finally the first murderer slashes him in the stomach, and dumps him on the bed, which by now has been thrust to the back of the stage. Clarence lies there, clutching his stomach and struggling to stay alive, while the second murderer tenders his resignation, leaving the first murderer to wheel the body off.

Back at the palace, Edward appears on the balcony, drip in arm, with an attendant holding what looked like a flask. The rest of the nobility, except Richard, are below, and carry out a series of reconciliations that a blind person would have seen as hollow and false. Still, they satisfy the king, at least until Richard arrives. He naturally outdoes everyone else in desiring to be reconciled to everyone present. He goes to each noble in turn, and when he gets to the Marquis of Dorset, he gives him all three of his titles, adding “Lord Woodville, and Lord Scales” which got a good laugh. All seems well, until the queen, thinking to take advantage of the good nature on show, asks the king to release Clarence. Richard immediately flares up into a temper, and in the process tells everyone that Clarence is dead. The king is appalled, and this is where the second bit of paper is relevant. In explaining that the countermand to the first order came too late, Richard pulls the paper out of his pocket and says “some tardy cripple bore the countermand”, doing a bit of limping and jokingly hitting himself on the head, as if to say, silly me! With nerves and emotions at breaking point, Stanley enters to plead for the life of one of his servants. Edward has a moving rant about how no one pleaded for Clarence, and yet everyone expects the king to grant their suits for this and that. It would, of course, be more moving if Edward hadn’t sent Clarence to the Tower in the first place, nor sent that first order to have him killed, but he’s ill, and upset, so I can certainly sympathise. He grants Stanley’s request, and staggers off, followed by the queen and all except Richard and Buckingham, who eventually leave after Richard’s put the blame on the queen for Clarence’s death.

Now I know Richard, Duke of York (Richard III’s father) was without a title for a while, so he’d probably fallen on hard times, but I did think it a bit much that his widow is still charring at her age. Maureen Beattie, as the Duchess of York, mother to the current king (the female parts in this play can get very confusing), comes onto stage carrying a bucket, and proceeds to mop a patch of floor to our right. Above her, on the balcony, stand two children, a son and daughter of Clarence. It’s a slightly confusing scene, and one that’s often cut, I suspect, as I don’t recall it from previous productions. Basically the Duchess is telling the children that their father isn’t dead (porky) and that she’s grieving for her son, Edward, being so ill. They know full well their father’s dead, and have been told by Richard that the queen arranged it. The Duchess is appalled at this deceit, and yet the children still believe it.

The queen now enters, with a couple of her family, to tell us all that the king is dead. The women go into the competitive mourning that’s so typical of the histories, and a few of the other plays. The queen has had her losses, but the Duchess contends that at least she has her sons left to comfort her. The Duchess is left with only one son, Richard, and she doesn’t see much prospect of him filling her heart with gladness any time soon. The men try to chip in with practical advice (have they learned nothing about handling an emotional woman?) and just then Richard and the rest of the court arrive to organise bringing the new king to London. As they head off past us to arrange who will go to accompany the prince, Richard and Buckingham are at the rear, and before leaving, Buckingham, standing behind Richard, advises him to make sure they’re both in the escort. He promises to deal with the queen’s relatives, and Richard is almost ecstatic at having such a co-conspirator.

The next scene simply concerns a group of citizens in the text; here Michael Boyd has taken advantage of the existing characters to the full. One of the citizens is the second murderer, looking like he’s leaving the country and doesn’t want to be noticed. Another is an attractive woman, while the third is Catesby, looking menacing in his black suit, sunglasses and carrying a coffee. Another man in black is there, adding to the menace – I don’t remember now if that was the first murderer or someone else, although the first murderer does come on as one of Richard’s enforcers later. There’s a general air of menace in this scene, suggesting the police state is developing nicely. Nicely for Richard, that is. It’s clear that speaking one’s mind is not going to be welcome or indeed advisable from now on.

After they leave, we head back to the palace, where the queen is waiting for news of her son’s arrival from Ludlow. Her other son, the young Duke of York, is with her, and when she comments on how he’s growing so fast he’ll have outgrown his older brother, he cheekily passes on Richard’s comment that “Small herbs have grace, great weeds do grow apace.” The Duchess disputes that, given Richard’s own life, and the boy blabs about Richard being born with teeth. It’s a nice little scene, introducing us to the young Duke, and giving us some more information about Richard that we’ll need to know later. I don’t know which of the young actors was playing the young Duke tonight, but he did a very good job. A messenger brings them the news that Rivers and Grey have been taken to Pomfret, and the queen takes her son with her to claim sanctuary.

The prince arrives on stage with Buckingham, and then his uncle, Richard, arrives, laden with presents – several boxes and a space hopper – which he has to put down before greeting him properly. There’s the usual concern over getting the prince’s brother out of sanctuary, and Buckingham is oily enough to fire a power station in explaining away the difficulties. While they wait, the prince is full of wise snippets and ideas, and Richard has some funny asides – “So wise so young, they say, do never live long”. Young York arrives, and after greeting his brother, turns to a battle of words with Richard, who is now sitting on the space hopper. It’s more barbed than I remember from previous productions, and it’s clear that Richard is getting the worst of it, though that’s partly because he’s keeping up the façade of being a kindly uncle. Buckingham smoothes things over with his evil charm, and the princes head off to the Tower. Richard and Buckingham then discuss with Catesby whether Hastings can be persuaded to join in a plot to put Richard on the throne. Catesby reckons he won’t hear of it, and Lord Stanley will follow whichever line Hastings takes. They send him off to test this out, and then consider briefly what to do if Hastings isn’t willing to join in. Richard’s “Chop off his head” was said so swiftly, it got a laugh. He also promises Buckingham the earldom of Hereford once he, Richard, becomes king.

A messenger rouses Hastings at his home, and he comes on stage, dressing. He’s obviously spent an enjoyable night, as his companion is the attractive lady we saw in an earlier scene, and whom we later find out is Mistress Shore. She’s dressed in just a shirt and a pair of shoes, showing off her long legs to good advantage, and helps Hastings to dress in a very affectionate way. It may even have distracted me from the lines a little, but I got the gist – Hastings is being warned to stay away from the court, as Stanley has had a dream that the boar (Richard) will kill him. Hastings is confident that he’s in no danger, and tells Stanley’s messenger so. Then Catesby arrives, coffee in hand, and broaches the subject of making Richard king. Hastings is clearly against the idea, but is glad to hear that the queen’s kin are to die at Pomfret. Catesby keeps making comments that could be taken as warnings – “’Tis a vile thing to die, my gracious lord, When men are unprepar’d and look not for it.” – but Hastings is a perfect example of pride heading for a fall. Stanley turns up, and reinforces his earlier concern, pointing out that the Lords at Pomfret probably felt secure until they were condemned, but Hastings still refuses to see the obvious. Another couple of people turn up, including Buckingham, and then they’re off to the Tower.

Just to show us some actual deaths – the Elizabethans liked their violence, remember, and so far only Clarence has been killed on stage – we get to see Rivers, Grey and another chap getting killed at Pomfret. They’re brought on blindfolded and tied up, and get a few minutes to stand there, giving us their last words. Naturally, they’re pretty unhappy with the situation, and then they’re shot. They did this very well, with something approaching the right recoil from the impact of the bullets. All three then get up and head off for the underworld.

Now the stage is set up for the council meeting. Clear plastic chairs are brought on, and a group of officials are present, including Hastings, Stanley, Buckingham and the Bishop of Ely. They start discussing when to have the coronation, and Buckingham disingenuously asks if anyone knows what Richard, now Lord Protector, thinks. He’s quick to disclaim knowing Richard intimately (porkies, again), and sets up Hastings as the expert on Richard’s inner thoughts. Hastings, the fool, takes the bait, and is about to speak on behalf of Richard when the man himself turns up.

At first, Richard seems happy with the situation, and commends Hastings. He asks the bishop to send for some of the strawberries that he saw growing in his garden, and then waits, pointedly looking at the bishop, until he leaves to send for them. Richard then takes Buckingham to one side for a quiet chat, leaving the rest to talk amongst themselves, which they do. They resume the discussion about the coronation date, and Hastings comments on how cheerful Richard looks, expressing the view that Richard is the least deceitful man he knows. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, and Shakespeare builds this guy up to be the biggest chump ever.

When Richard re-appears, he’s in a temper, and he’s accompanied by some of the men in suits, and also Mistress Shore. Hastings presumably realises he’s in trouble now, but still speaks up, and Richard commands that Hastings’ head be cut off. Richard then leaves, telling the rest to come along if they love him, and leaving them in no doubt what will happen if they don’t. Stanley takes the longest time to go, looking pleadingly at Hastings, who acknowledges that he has no other choice. Richard’s henchmen take Hastings away, after he gets to say some last bitter words, and then the stage is set up for the scene where Richard persuades the Mayor of London that Hastings’ death was necessary.

Now last time, the setup was different, and I remember Richard and Buckingham taking cover behind a table, presumably the one that had been on stage for the meeting. This time, while the chairs are being removed, Catesby brings on a car door and dumps it on the stage to our right. He also brings on some tyres and other debris, while Richard and Buckingham reappear in battle gear, doing themselves up with camouflage makeup, and we hear the instructions for the special effects clearly over the speakers. It’s quite a production – no wonder the Mayor looks terrified when he shows up. There’s explosions, the sound of a helicopter, and gunfire. There may also have been armed men descending on ropes; it’s happened so much in these productions I may be remembering another occasion. When Hastings’ head is brought on, in a plastic bag, they explain his treachery, and the Mayor is only too happy to speak as if he’d heard the confession directly from Hastings himself. As the Mayor leaves to spread the word, and one of Richard’s men is putting police tape round the stage (the audience are holding it in place), Richard instructs Buckingham to put out a lot of spin discrediting King Edward and his children, even going as far as to imply Edward himself was a bastard. Buckingham heads off to do this, and Richard lays some more plans, and then he’s off. I thought this would be the interval, but no. Geoffrey Freshwater, as the scrivener, comes on with a huge bundle of papers, both newspapers and white sheets. He spells out the length of time it’s taken him to write the indictment of Hastings, and yet Hastings’ crime was apparently only discovered hours after he’d started writing. He dumps the papers on the ground in disgust – he obviously recognises there were no WMD. And then, the interval.

Richard is clearly keen to know how the general population took Buckingham’s stories, and fortunately, there’s a large chunk of the general population on hand, sitting comfortably around him, to refer to during this scene. We were indeed mute, apart from the occasional laugh, and it’s not surprising. Buckingham describes the speech he gave, and there’s a good bit of humour when he refers to Richard’s lineaments being more like his father’s than Edward’s were. With the Mayor about to turn up, Buckingham preps Richard for his next scene, telling him not to accept the crown too easily, and the trap is set.

In front of the Mayor and us, the assembled throng, Buckingham and Richard perform their little play. At first, Catesby comes out to say that Richard isn’t available – he’s meditating. When Catesby goes back to re-invite Richard to come out, Buckingham uses the time to spin to the crowd what a noble character Richard has, compared to the previous king. Again Catesby enters to say that Richard fears why such a huge number of people have come to speak to him. Then Catesby’s given another message and sent back, and this time Richard appears on the balcony, with the Bishop of Ely and another churchman beside him.

This next bit is a great piece of theatre, and this production does it very well. It’s hugely enjoyable to sit back and watch two masters of deception spin their web. If I didn’t know better, I might have believed them myself, but as it is it’s good fun to listen to some fairly long speeches which we know to be completely false. Richard’s expressions of humility, and protests that he isn’t fit to be king, and that there are two other princes who come before him, were beautifully done. When Buckingham leaves, he gets a fair distance away before Richard can get him back, and then Richard reluctantly accepts the crown. When Buckingham says “Then I salute you with this royal title: Long live King Richard, England’s worthy king!” we, the audience, are encouraged to join in with the second part, which I happily did. We obviously created enough noise, as Buckingham gave us the thumbs-up afterwards.

Now the queen, the Duchess and various family members, those that are still alive, meet up at the tower. Brakenbury tells them that they can’t see the princes, and lets slip that it’s on the king’s orders. He amends it to the Lord Protector, but the seeds of doubt are sown, only to be confirmed a few moments later, when Stanley arrives to instruct Ann to go to Westminster, to be crowned Richard’s queen. The ex-queen advises the Marquis of Dorset to flee to Richmond (that’s the character, not the place), and Stanley supports this, adding that he will give him letters to take to his, Stanley’s, son. The women do a bit more grieving, and Ann recognises she’s the victim of her own curse.

The coronation was a significant piece of staging. Before a single line has been spoken, the court assembles, and Richard walks down the aisle to the front of the stage, dressed in a golden robe, highly reminiscent of the first entrance of Richard II. Ann is wearing what appears to be virtually the same costume she wore as Richard II’s wife, and as these are the only old-fashioned clothes, they really stand out. In fact, it was at this point that I realised that the same actress was playing both Richards’ wives. The cross-casting may take some time to figure out, but it’s worth it in the end.

As Richard stands at the front of the stage, the doors open, and backlit figures emerge. They’re the ghosts that Richard has killed or in some way upset – Henry VI, Warwick, Clarence, and I think Edward. No one else seems to notice them, but Richard gets a bad case of the jitters. The ghosts confront him and then leave, and then the steps from Richard II are wheeled on at the back. Above them on the balcony stands daddy – the original Duke of York – holding the crown. Richard practically gallops up those steps to receive his prize, and then he and the steps are wheeled forward to the centre of the stage for the scene proper to start.

While Richard and Buckingham talk, the others are walking around the stage, taking drinks from trays, silently. Richard is definitely pumped up, and finds Buckingham relaxed, and ready to enjoy the glories he and Richard have won at a leisurely pace. He’s not keen on killing the princes, and goes off to consider his options. But Richard can’t wait, and Catesby (I think) provides a suitable candidate, Tyrell. News comes that the Marquis of Dorset has fled to Richmond, and suddenly Richard instructs Catesby to spread the word that Ann, the new-crowned queen, is sick and will probably die. Tired of her already. Actually, Richard knows he needs to consolidate his position, and intends to marry his brother’s daughter, i.e. his niece, to make his claim secure. I found myself wondering about the relative ages and how much time had elapsed between plays, but I couldn’t manage that when so much was happening on stage.

Tyrell arrives, and agrees to kill the princes without any noticeable hesitation. Off he goes, and Buckingham returns, ready at last to discuss the princes, only for Richard to fob him off. He fobs him off from his reward as well. As Buckingham asks for those things Richard promised him several scenes ago, Richard muses on the prophesy that Richmond would be king, uttered by Henry VI himself. There’s a number of lines cut in this production, so no references to clocks, but Richard is still pretty snappy with Buckingham, who realises he’s somehow fallen out of favour, and decides to make a run for it.

With everyone off the stage, Tyrell comes back on, and reports to us the story of the killing of the two princes, as told to him by the actual murderers. When Richard comes on, eating, Tyrell gives him the news, and answers his questions in full, giving him a digital camera so he can see the pictures taken of the dead princes. After Tyrell leaves, Richard informs us that Ann is dead, and when news comes that Buckingham  has raised an army, Richard has to rush to prepare for a fight.

Margaret reappears, happy to see how her enemies are going to rack and ruin, and many to an early death. She backs off to the shadows when the ex-queen and the Duchess come along to have a communal moaning session. Margaret joins in, giving them a lesson in how to do obsessive grieving, and for once this scene wasn’t too boring. I suspect lines were cut, but it all came across pretty clearly, and didn’t go on too long. After Margaret leaves, Richard arrives with his troops, though we don’t see them. The Duchess and the ex-queen start to have a go at him, but he tells the musicians to start playing, and they’re nearly drowned out. Richard just stands there, bouncing along to the music. He stops it briefly when his mother seems to have run out of steam, but then she starts up again, and so does the music. It’s a great compliment to Maureen Beattie’s vocal powers that I could still hear her, just, over the loud music. Eventually he heads off stage, but she has one last word. Well, lots of words, actually, because she tells him this will be the last time she speaks to him. He listens to her curse him, and then she leaves, so that only Richard and the ex-queen are left on stage.

Now Richard has to woo another woman he’s wronged, but this time he’s wooing the queen so he can marry her daughter. She gives back as good as she gets, and it’s a long scene, cut of course, but still lengthy. This time, she’s not persuaded by any of Richard’s arguments about the good he intends to do for her family, but she does see the political necessity, and agrees to talk with her daughter. Catesby and Ratcliff turn up with news that Richmond himself is now invading, and Richard sends them on various errands. At first, he gets angry with Catesby for not going as soon as he tells him to go, and I think he hits him, but as Catesby points out, Richard hasn’t yet given him the message he’s to deliver, and Richard relents, patting him on the head.

It all gets a bit frantic now, with lots of messengers flying to and fro, and both sides striding on and off the stage in rapid succession. There’s a battle to fight, they can’t hang about! Richard gets even more stroppy, hitting people who bring him bad news, except that sometimes it’s good news, and he has to give them some money to make up for it. Buckingham is captured, and executed, after the usual comments about how it was all prophesied, and Stanley gets word to Richmond that he can’t be too obviously on his side, as Richard holds his son as hostage.

Both sides arrive near Bosworth, and prepare for battle the next day. Richmond speaks with Stanley, and then settles down to sleep for a while. He’s at the front of the stage, and before lying down, kneels with his sword like a cross in front of him. He prays, and I was reminded of Henry V praying, possibly in exactly the same position, before the battle of Agincourt. He lies down to sleep, and then the doors open, and we see Richard lying, asleep, at the back. He’s only wearing his top and knickers, so his legs are bare. He wakes suddenly, and gets up, and all his blemishes are gone. He can walk straight, he has no hump, his arm is fine, and his Gorbachev has disappeared. He’s ecstatic, but sadly, it’s only a dream. As the ghosts appear, starting with his wife, Ann, they give him back his deformities. She holds his arm, and then it’s shrivelled again. Another, possibly Rivers, shoots him in the leg, and he’s hobbling. Hastings (or possibly Buckingham) slapped the birthmark back on his head, and Edward (the king as was) takes a picture. This time, the ghost of the Duke of York is on the balcony with his two murdered sons, and he’s not a happy bunny. The ghosts on stage all stop to give Richmond their support, then they clear off, and Richard is left to consider his position. It’s not good, morally speaking, and finally he seems to recognise that. He’s not in a good frame of mind for the battle, but the show must go on, and he leaves with Ratcliff, determined to find out if any of his supporters are disloyal.

Richmond, on the other hand, has had a very good night’s sleep, and gives a pretty good speech to his men. Again, it recalls some of Henry V’s words, especially when he claims that he won’t be ransomed. Richard’s speech to his men must have been cut, or else my memory’s much worse than I thought. It certainly has its problems, as I don’t remember the details of the fighting. In fact I think it was pretty sparse, as all that’s needed is for Richard to get killed, which Richmond does pretty quickly, and then we have his final speech. During this, he brings to a close the Wars of the Roses, and when he mentions the son killing the father, and the father the son, he exchanges looks with Stanley, as these two have represented father and son throughout the cycle – Percy and Hotspur, Talbot and John Talbot, Father who kills his son and Son who kills his father. It was a moving moment, to have these two characters suggest the echoes of their previous incarnations, and it’s a lovely end to a great performance.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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