By William Shakespeare
Directed by Andrew Hilton
Company: Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory
Venue: Tobacco Factory
Date: Tuesday 26th March 2013
After a late night yesterday, I confess to nodding off a little in the early stages of this performance, but I got the gist of the staging and by the second half I was all attention. The energy drooped a little in the final scenes, a problem inherent in the play rather than the performances, but otherwise it was a brisk and straightforward telling of the story which managed to come in at just over three hours. We didn’t find it quite as sparkling as previous SATTF productions, but that just means it was very good instead of superb.
I love the set designs at the Tobacco Factory – two or three sentences and it’s finished! The pillars had been boxed in with wood and there were swords hanging on each one. In the right hand corner (I’m counting from the entrance) were two large wooden doors and in the opposite corner was a wooden platform with steps down to the stage level. The usual furniture was brought on and off as needed, and the costumes were mostly Elizabethan. There, all done.
I’ll try to be brief on the staging choices and performances (still got the Hamlet notes to do after all). The biggest cut was Mad Margaret, and the story didn’t suffer one bit for her departure. She’s invaluable when doing the complete History cycle, but in a one-off production her constant references to events which the audience may know nothing about isn’t always helpful. We loved Paola Dionisotti in the RSC’s recent production, but we didn’t miss her character in this at all, and boy did it save time. It allowed the other women, especially the Queen and Richard’s mother, to feature more strongly, and they even included the brief chat amongst the citizens, often cut, although the scrivener was MIA. The text was cut in other ways too, making for a taut production which fairly rattled along.
We saw more of Hastings’ visitors in the morning before the fatal committee meeting than is usual, and for once there was very little disruption after Hastings’ arrest and execution – no helicopters, soldiers, dead bodies (apart from a bloody head in a bag). The Mayor was only too happy to believe the story they fed him, and during the wooing of Richard scene, there were many worried glances among the citizens who accompanied Buckingham and the Mayor onto the stage, presumably concerned that Richard wouldn’t accept the crown. We couldn’t see the corner where Richard and his two holy men stood as it was too far round to our left, but the dialogue came across very well, and we enjoyed the scene a lot. As Buckingham and Richard came over to stand by us during the post-coronation party, we had a very good view of their discussion regarding the two young princes in the tower. Buckingham clearly had no idea that the princes were politically troubling, somewhat naïve if you ask me, and Richard was quick to shed him from favouritism, briskly acquiring a suitable assassin from Catesby (Murders-R-Us).
The ghosts were done rather well. In the preparation for the night before the final battle, assorted soldiers wearing cloaks came on and sat around the pillars. As Richard slept, these actors rose and shed their cloaks to become the various ghosts, and since the young lads weren’t old enough to stay up that late, their grandmother got to speak some extra lines on their behalf. Richmond may have been on stage at this point, but wasn’t visited by the ghosts other than in his own report.
The actual fight between the two leaders reflected the comment Richard makes about Richmond’s lack of training in military matters; Richmond was soon disarmed by Richard but fought on long enough for his men to turn up and despatch his opponent. Incidentally, the program carried some interesting information about sword skills in that period, and they choreographed some specific movements which would have likely been used by Richard, such as ‘The Boar’.
John Mackay’s portrayal of Richard was a good one. With his height and with short cropped blond hair, he wasn’t the usual image of the small dark hunchback, but he carried off the character’s Machiavellian plotting and sense of mischief very well. He had a small hump and the withered arm and crooked leg, but nothing extreme. His dialogue was crystal clear, as it was for the entire cast, and again I heard some lines as if for the first time. His performance kept to the lighter side, making good use of the plentiful comedy available in this villainous role without being too jokey, and the character’s emotional journey was well mapped out all the way to the crown. It was after the coronation and Buckingham’s defection that things flagged a little, despite the brisk pace, and the post-nightmare speech in Richard’s tent seemed rushed to me. Having said that, this was still a very strong central performance within a clear retelling of the story.
I did have one personal chuckle at the end. With Richard lying askew on the ground, Richmond ordered that the bodies of those of rank should be interred according to their status. As he glanced at Richard’s body, I couldn’t help thinking he was about to add “and bury this one under a car park in Leicester”. Well, it made me laugh.
© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me