Richard III – March 2013

Experience: 8/10

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.

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Richard III – August 2012

7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Roxana Silbert

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Tuesday 21st August 2012

This was another strange performance, the first after a three week break while Troilus And Cressida had its run. They had a line run in the afternoon, which would account for their dialogue being crystal clear for the most part (Stanley was the notable exception – his lines were less understandable than before!) but the energy petered out after a good start, leading to a relatively lacklustre performance. There were some distractions tonight; Steve had to leave during Clarence’s dream speech as his cough wouldn’t behave itself and some teenagers on the left side of the stage were very fidgety during the second half, leafing through programs and the like, which didn’t help. But mostly the pace was just a fraction too slow, and I suspect they needed this performance to get back fully into their stride.

Jonjo was accessing more of the dark aspects of the play this time, though not as much as I would have liked. I heard the conversation between Clarence and Richard in full tonight, and understood the political implications much better. I could also see Clarence’s reactions as Richard commented on Mistress Shore; he smiled and almost laughed a few times at Richard’s bitchiness.

On to Act 3 scene 1, and some points I forgot from the previous performance. Buckingham tilted the Cardinal’s hat after accusing him of being “too senseless-obstinate”, and flicked back the corners of his cape. When Buckingham was briefing Catesby for his errand to Hastings, he wheeled forward the throne for Catesby to sit on, which he did, savouring the experience.

The scrivener was also hard to understand this time, while Catesby sat amongst the audience after his initial contributions to the wooing of Richard so that he could respond as part of the crowd. Richard’s parting kiss to the ex-queen Elizabeth was really unpleasant, and she was holding herself very stiffly so as to avoid the contact as much as possible. Richard said “relenting fool” before she’d walked away from him, but kept the rest of that speech till she’d gone.

Anne spat at Richard again during the ghost sequence, and the young Edward briefly stood between Richard and Richmond when they were fighting. I forgot to mention before that when Richmond was strangling Richard at the end, echoing the way Richard tried to strangle the young Duke of York earlier, Richard took off his coronet and hit Richmond with it a few times before finally dying. It was a funny gesture, and appropriate given the way they staged the ghost sequence.

Apart from the greater clarity, that was about it for tonight. It still feels like a good production, and the cast certainly look like they’re all working well together now.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Richard III – July 2012

7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Roxana Silbert

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Tuesday 24th July 2012

It’s difficult to assess this performance. The production has come on a lot from the second preview that we saw, with stronger performances all round, but the emphasis on the comic aspects of Richard’s career as a serial killer is still holding it back in my opinion. Seeing it from a different angle brought out some details we’d missed before, and I spotted some changes, but mostly it was just the natural improvement that comes with practice.

Slight change at the beginning; this time Edward, Richard and Clarence all came on from the front right walkway while the rest of the royal family came through the opening at the back. They stood in the middle of the stage, hands clasped together, a victorious threesome. Richard’s wooing of Anne had improved, though Pippa Dixon’s drooling put me off a bit. Siobhan Redmond’s accent was much clearer this time, and I could make out Stanley’s dialogue much better.

Our position made it easier to see Paola Dionisotti during the early stages of her first scene, and her performance was just as good as before. Our view of King Edward was much better this time too, so the reconciliation scene worked better for me. I noticed that Queen Elizabeth was very upset at news of Clarence’s death, and was crying by the end of the scene.

All was much the same through to the arrival of the young prince Edward. I didn’t hear Richard repeat “Sanctuary children” this time, though as the prince didn’t say the line “God keep me from false friends! But they were none” again, I assume it was a deliberate choice, even though there was a noticeable pause after Richard’s previous line. I did notice that he looked very mature and king-like for such a young boy; definitely a threat to Richard had he lived. It took Buckingham a lot longer to prise Richard’s hands from the Duke of York’s throat this time – what fun they’re having.

During the persuasion of the Lord Mayor, I couldn’t see Buckingham and Richard’s reactions so well this time, but Catesby fainted when he turned round and saw Hastings’ severed head being carried by Ratcliffe. When Ratcliffe left, he hung the head on a hook on the back wall; presumably it wasn’t visible enough on the floor when the scrivener came on.

The wooing of the people scene was very good. Buckingham’s description of his disastrous first attempt to persuade the people to support Richard’s kingship led into this second attempt, hence the unprepared nature of the scene. This made more sense, and was a good reading of the scene. The first half ended as before, with Richard grinning in his central window.

In the second half, the coronation scene was easier to see from our seats this time. Buckingham seemed to be oblivious to the risks that Richard saw in letting the young princes live. His ambition stretched no further than putting Richard on the throne; keeping him there was beyond his remit.

Skipping on to the floral tributes in front of the tower, we had a great view of the three women sitting or lying on the ground, going over their wrongs and their suffering. I found this quite moving, and when Richard came and laid the teddy bears by the wreaths, I found I was ignoring the comedy of the lines and getting the darker side. It took some time for the audience as a whole to tune into this, but there were gasps when Richard suggested he make amends to young Elizabeth for murdering her brothers and uncle, by marrying her and giving her children to replace the relatives she’s lost.

It was interesting to see how this wooing reflected the earlier scene with Anne, only this time the ex-queen is having none of it. She is in charge of this debate, and counters every attempt by Richard to seduce her into willingly speaking to her daughter on his behalf. With greater confidence, Siobhan no longer needed to clench her fists behind her back to show us her character’s resistance; through her performance she demonstrated that the queen only submitted to Richard’s demands out of political necessity, and even then she used a delaying tactic to cover her exit.

The messengers, dreams and battles were as before, and I didn’t notice any other changes. Jonjo O’Neill’s performance did have greater range, although the comedic aspect was still the strongest part of it. The whole cast are working very well together on this one, and with more central seats I suspect we’ll get even more out of it. Roll on August.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Richard III – March 2012

6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Roxana Silbert

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Friday 23rd March 2012

This was only the second preview performance (press night 17th April), and although it was a little patchy there were signs of great potential for the future. It was also lovely to see a production that’s not distorted by some heavy concept which the director has imposed on it; this was a relatively straightforward telling of the story with some nice touches in the staging and some lovely comic performances.

The set first. At the back of the thrust there was a silvery grey panelled wall which could provide doors, windows, etc. as needed, as well as opening wide to reveal the space behind all the way to the bricks at the back. Above the stage hung a selection from the RSC’s vast store of light bulbs (Midsummer Night’s Dream) – good to see them recycling so effectively. They brightened, they dimmed, and for each execution one or two bulbs descended lower to represent the lives snuffed out. During the dream sequence, the bulbs came down again as each ghost had its say in Richard’s nightmare, and they stayed lowered during the rest of the play; only one or two had to be raised a bit again to avoid the flashing swords. That was it, although chairs, tables, thrones and the rest were brought on as needed. The costumes were a mixture; mainly modern, they were combined with armour and swords, and it worked for us.

The opening was done by having the king (Edward, that is) proceed onto the stage with his queen through the partially opened doors at the back. He was accompanied by his children, his brothers and his in-laws, and they were clearly celebrating the final victory of the Yorkist line. Even Richard looked happy. When the others left, he stayed behind to inform us of the situation – everything’s going well, but he’s not happy about it so he’s going to take the crown. Jonjo O’Neill wouldn’t have sprung to my mind as likely casting for this part, and from these opening speeches I would say he has some way to go to cover the full range this part demands. He’s more at home with the comedy, and once we were past the early scenes he managed that aspect very well, but these opportunities to show us the inner workings of his villainous mind were lacking in depth and clarity, which he’ll hopefully develop with more experience of the role. He’s also better looking than I would expect for a Richard, which threw me a little bit. Not that the other actors have been totally repulsive physically, but they have usually manifested a greater degree of deformity of body, mind or both. We’ll have to see how it goes.

Clarence and Hastings were soon dealt with, and for once I was aware that Mistress Shore had been involved with Edward and was now ‘attached’ to Hastings. After Richard left, Anne arrived with the corpse of her dead husband, Henry VI, carried on a bier and covered with an ornate red cloth. Pippa Dixon was a very good Anne, and played her part strongly. Richard’s wooing of her could do with being a bit crisper, but that will come in time. Her arguments against Richard were strong, and for once I wasn’t clear about her conversion; that may also have been my angle, which was blocked a lot tonight; don’t ask me about King Edward’s performance – he might as well have been a potato for all I could see of him! Anne did at least leave with some tartness in her final line, and then Richard halted the bearers to speak his first question – “Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?” – to them.

The queen entered for the next scene looking worried, and Rivers and Grey’s attempts to comfort her were in vain. I thought at first that Siobhan Redmond was using her own Scottish accent for this part, but later I realised she was using a posh English accent instead. However, it didn’t come easily from the sound of it, and I could still hear the Scottish intonation at times, and even a few vowel sounds when her character was letting rip. Not a problem, but again that will probably improve in time. By contrast, Stanley was played with as thick an accent as you could wish for, and later on I found his dialogue completely unintelligible because of it. I don’t mind accents as such, but when they get in the way of hearing the lines I reckon they need to cut back on them for clarity’s sake.

This is the scene where the brawling court unites against the previous queen, Margaret. She appeared in a tall window at the back, invisible to the court at first and also to me, sadly, as Paola Dionisotti gave one of the strongest performances of the entire play. She was still lively, not burdened with age but brisk and light on her feet. She was angry and bitter and wanted revenge, but her mind was sharp and she delivered her lines so beautifully that their meaning became crystal clear. Once she inserted herself into the scene properly, she walked around, unfazed by the scorn coming her way from the newly allied court, and dishing out plenty of her own in return. She was momentarily taken aback by Richard ending her curse early, but she soon recovered. When she was warning Buckingham about Richard, she stood next to him in the centre of the stage and spoke quietly. Richard was at the back of the stage, and when he asked Buckingham what Margaret had said, she was already on her way to the exit when Buckingham gave his reply.

After the brawling court had left the stage, Richard had a bit of a chat with us and then his two murderers turned up. This was where the humour really got going, as these two lads were very funny. Richard handed over the warrant which Catesby had only just handed to him before leaving the stage with the rest of the court. That done, we moved to the Tower, where Clarence told Brakenbury his dream. He sat on his bed – Brakenbury stood all the while – and although it’s not my favourite sequence I found this enjoyable enough. The whole scene lifted with the arrival of the murderers, though. Their discussion was brisk and very funny, and despite Clarence making a strong attempt to dissuade them, the first murderer stabbed him from behind while he was focused on persuading the second murderer, who was wavering. The body and the bed were soon disposed of, and we moved back to the court for the mock reconciliation scene.

This was the scene where I could see very little of the king. He was on a high throne – a chair that needed three steps to get up to it – with the queen on a normal throne to his right and the rest of the nobles spread around the stage. I can’t really comment on the staging of this bit as I saw so little of it, but the dialogue remained the same.

The Duchess of York had her little conversation with Clarence’s son and daughter, and then the queen came on to announce the death of the king; more complaining by the women, but they did it well enough that I wasn’t bored. The arrival of Richard, Buckingham and the rest put a stop to the complaints for now, and Richard’s performance was starting to get into its stride with the humour coming more to the fore. Buckingham made his allegiance clear, and then we skipped the citizens’ discussion of the political situation and moved straight into a shortened version of Act 2 scene 4, where the duchess, the queen and her younger son heard the news that Rivers and Grey have been sent to Pomfret on the orders of Gloucester and Buckingham.

Nothing much to report there, but when the new King arrived in London and Richard was explaining the absence of two of his uncles, Edward skipped the line “God keep me from false friends! But they were none”. I don’t know if that was intentional or a mistake; it certainly seemed odd but that may just be my familiarity with the lines. Richard also repeated “sanctuary children” with a smile and a shake of his head; what an absurd idea!

They trimmed the confrontation between Richard and the young Duke of York, but kept the request for the knife and the ensuing leap onto Richard’s back. Both Richard and the young Duke ended up on the floor, and Richard appeared to be trying to strangle the little chap until Buckingham put an end to their wrestling match. Catesby left to sound out Hastings, and Richard promised Buckingham a reward for his services once he was king, and then the scene changed to Hastings’ house. This was shown by having a window opened on the right of the wall with a door in the centre. We could see Mistress Shore through the window, indecently dressed (it is 4 a.m.) and she came along a bit later to help Hastings get dressed, as I recall. The first messenger warned Hastings to flee – he ignored him – and then Catesby turned up and put it to Hastings that the country would be better off with Richard on the throne. Hastings was having none of it, and rather stupidly suggested that his head would have to be cut off before he’d allow such a thing. How these people arrange their own downfall! Even Stanley couldn’t talk any sense into the man.

Rivers and Grey were executed next. Two bulbs were lowered, and then the men came on flanked by two guards each, Ratcliffe being one of them. A rope was put round each man’s neck, and they just had time to point out how Margaret’s curse had come upon them before the ropes were pulled tight and they were strangled to death.

Back in London, the council was meeting. The table was in the middle of the stage, two benches either side, and a chair at the far end. Hastings was in the chair, and the Bishop of Ely to his left, with Stanley on his right. Buckingham was free range for this scene. I’m not sure what gave me the impression, but I felt that this was one of several meetings that had been held for some time, possibly several weeks, and that they were finally prepared to set the date. I’ve never had that impression before, but as time is even more relative in Shakespeare than Einstein deduced, it was an interesting idea. The change in Hastings’ fortunes was swift, and the man recognised his doom. A light bulb was lowered for him as he commented on his fate, slightly shortened by a few well-placed cuts (to the comments).

The comedy level now reached new heights with the persuasion of the mayor. Richard and Buckingham re-arranged the furniture, throwing over the table and chairs, and with their armour on, prepared to act as if they were under siege. There were windows in the back wall at this point, and from behind the wall came the sounds of swords clashing, but we were aware that it was just Ratcliffe, on his own, banging several swords against each other. Occasionally Richard leant out and had a go himself, as Ratcliffe provided the sound effects of a multitude of soldiers. This was very funny.

As they were preparing the scene, Richard asked Buckingham if he could play his part in the pretence. Buckingham was very scornful in his reply, using a posh Scottish accent instead of his usual one, mimicking the voice and behaviour of “the deep tragedian” nicely. With the arrival of the mayor, they got down to business. Ratcliffe soon entered with Hastings’ head, holding it by the ear, and the emotional suffering displayed by Richard and Buckingham was great fun. The mayor was easily led into agreeing to tell the citizens the ‘correct’ version of events, and Buckingham was sent after him to add some extra details to promote Richard’s cause.

When Ratcliffe left the stage earlier, he placed Hastings’ head on the floor by the back wall. The next character to come on, the scrivener, was able to refer to this when he informed us of the strange goings-on at court; how he was asked to write the indictment on Lord Hastings long before he’d been charged, and now here he was, dead. It didn’t come across so well to me this time, though I liked the staging. I think the scrivener may have taken the head off with him.

When Buckingham returned, he told Richard of the populace’s silence at the story he was spinning them. The details about the recorder were omitted, as were the few who cheered, so Richard had to leave very quickly to set up the prayer book and two churchmen photo op. The mayor arrived with some of the citizens, and they stood all around the auditorium and on the balconies. Catesby was sent out, very reluctantly, to speak to them first. His stumbling over the story to be told suggested this was a hastily cobbled together plan rather than a carefully prepared one, which is usually the way. With Catesby coming out a second time, and Buckingham spinning the ‘news’ for all it was worth, this was a very funny scene, especially as we could see ‘monks’ running around behind the windows, and once Richard actually prompted Catesby loudly from behind the wall. When Richard did appear with the churchmen, he and they stood in the three windows at the back, apparently oblivious to the assembled throng. I don’t remember if they made anything of the reference to a prayer book. The arguments between Buckingham and Richard were edited, and soon Richard was proclaimed king. With the crowd gone, the monks were paid off by Catesby, and the rest of Richard’s team left him alone on stage. The first half ended with him standing in that middle window, grinning, as the lights went down.

The second half opened with the gathering of the women, intending to visit young King Edward in the Tower. Earlier I had the thought that there must have been an amazing number of high-quality boy players in the Chamberlain’s Men around the time Will wrote this play, as there are so many strong parts for women in it. And they all get very long speeches to do as well. Anyway, the actresses playing these women were all good, so although these parts are often trimmed, they carried them off pretty well. Mind you, the moaning and groaning does go on a bit, so judicious editing is a must, and I would have preferred a little less of Anne’s speech before she went off to be crowned; it’s mostly a repeat of what she said earlier, so a bit of pruning wouldn’t go amiss.

Richard had been crowned, and entered with his court from the back of the stage. The high throne had been brought on, but with its back to the audience which was quite funny – when he sat on it he was forever looking round at us, which made us part of the whispering. He motioned for the rest of the court to shove off and carry on the party on the far side of the wall, and then he got down to suborning Buckingham for the deaths of his nephews. Unfortunately Buckingham also had his back to me, so I don’t know how he played this bit, other than requesting some time to think about it. Richard called Ratcliffe over and asked him to suggest a possible murderer, he suggested Tyrell, fetched him over, and the deal was soon struck. Richard and Hamlet have very little in common as far as getting things done is concerned – this was very brisk and decisive.

When Buckingham came back, he was too late to get involved, and Richard dismissed his pestering requests for the promised reward by emphatically stating “I am not in the giving vein today”. The other conversations Richard had with other characters were slotted in somewhere along the line, and then we moved on to Tyrell’s description of the murder of the two young princes in the Tower. After he reported this to Richard, and Richard explained his various stratagems to us, the news of the defections of Ely and Buckingham arrived, and the final battle wasn’t far off.

First, though, there was a short remembrance ceremony for the two princes, as wreaths and bouquets were brought on stage and left by the back wall.  Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of York, overlooked by Margaret, added to them, and had another go at expressing their grief and suffering. Margaret could top them all, and it was another opportunity to hear Paola Dionisotti’s marvellous delivery of these lines. When Richard turned up, he shocked the women by adding his own contribution to the flowers – two teddy bears, one with a blue ribbon round its neck, the other with a red ribbon. I didn’t see this bit fully from my position, and Steve didn’t see it at all; hopefully we’ll get a fuller picture next time around.

During Richard’s negotiation with Elizabeth over her daughter, I noticed that Siobhan Redmond was clenching her fists behind her back, both when she had her back to us and later, when she was facing the other way. I took this to mean that Elizabeth was not convinced by Richard’s arguments, and was simply going along with the political reality. They did this scene pretty fully, and then the battle plans started. From here it’s fairly straightforward to the end of the play, with the executed and murdered lining up on the side of Richmond, and hardly anyone supporting Richard. Messengers rushed on and off to bring us updates on the military situation, Stanley made his position clear to Richmond when they met briefly, Buckingham was executed – another light bulb, another reference to Margaret’s abilities – and then Richmond and Richard squared up, metaphorically speaking, for the decisive battle. No replays, it’s winner take all on the day.

The two sides came on at the back and occupied the stage briefly while they told us the necessary information, and then Richard came on to do his pen and ink bit. They set up a desk and chair to the right of the stage, and he fell asleep over it. At this point, the ghosts began to come forward, starting with the young king, Edward, who ran on and snatched the crown off Richard’s head, making him wake up. As each ghost came on to add their curse, a light bulb descended as they had for the deaths. Hastings ended up with the crown, and after Richard had been thoroughly demoralised, he was lying at the front of the stage looking towards the back where Richmond stood, arms outstretched, receiving the blessings of the ghosts. This was a nice double effect; Richard didn’t just get the curses, he also saw the ghosts bless Richmond, while Richmond himself was having this wonderful dream about how all the people whom Richard had killed were coming to him and giving him their support. I liked this staging very much.

The next day, we heard each manager’s team talk before the battle. Richmond was noble and uplifting as you would expect, while Richard was sneering and contemptuous. The fighting was kept to a minimum, with four on Richard’s side walking to the front of the stage and turning to face four on Richmond’s side who lined up at the back – the panels had been folded back to reveal the full depth of the stage by this time. The two lots charged at each other and fought for a bit, then they cleared away leaving Richard lying in the middle of the stage with blood on his mouth, calling for a horse. Richmond came on and they fought, with Richmond naturally winning. The young Elizabeth of York was present for Richmond’s final speeches, and ran to embrace him, showing that this will be a love match rather than an arranged political marriage. With all the living and most of the dead now happy, it was a good point to end the play, so they did.

With Jonjo O’Neill reining back his accent a bit, there weren’t too many problems with his lines tonight, though his performance was definitely on the lighter side of the Richard III spectrum. The story was told relatively clearly, and with practice this should be a good production, with some excellent performances already. I’ve mentioned Paola Dionisotti earlier; Alex Waldmann was both funny and menacing as Catesby, as was Neal Barry as Ratcliffe and Joshua Jenkins as the second murderer. Worth catching again.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Richard III – July 2011

8/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Edward Hall

Company: Propeller

Venue: Hampstead Theatre

Date: Saturday 9th July 2011

This was a fantastic production, with a great central performance by Richard Clothier which was well supported by a strong and balanced ensemble.

The setting was a mix of hospital and abattoir. Open metal girders on either side, curtains of plastic strips which were held back by chains, and a box frame which had assorted cutting and drilling implements dangling from it represented the abattoir, while hospital screens in drab grey, white coats on the non-specific characters, and trolley tables represented the hospital. The characters in white coats were basically those not directly involved in each scene, and they also wore masks with holes for the eyes and mouth, which made them look very sinister. When characters arrived in the middle of a scene, for example Hastings’ release from the Tower, they had the white coats pull two sets of screens across the stage from opposite sides, and when they finished crossing over, the new arrival would be discovered in the middle of the stage. This worked very effectively.

It took me longer than Steve, but we both realised that the murders in the play were being done in the manner of various horror movies, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre being the most obvious. This certainly got across the nastiness of the violence, and I suspect it freed up Richard Clothier to present the humour of Richard’s part more strongly for the rest of the time, which he did brilliantly. I couldn’t place all the other references as I’m not into horror movies, but the association was clear, even to me.

The performance began with the actors done up in the white coats and masks gradually taking up positions on the stage, silently. They were not so much menacing at this time as strangely disturbing, as they stood there gazing out at us. I don’t remember now exactly how they got into the first line of the play – I think there was some kind of mime first? –  but once started, they went along at a fair clip.

The wooing scene went very well, despite the dead body in the middle of the stage, and I felt this time, as I have before, that it’s Richard’s flattering comments about her beauty that do the trick with Anne. Jon Trenchard played Lady Anne, and made her much more feminine than Propeller usually does; in fact all the women were noticeably less butch than usual – is this a change of policy?

The two young princes were represented by puppets, which worked really well. They had shop dummy faces, which reminded me of the Autons in Doctor Who, another creepy reference. They were slightly nervous children though, hanging round their mother’s skirts a lot, except when they arrived at the Tower and the younger lad was being cheeky to his uncle Richard.

The murderers were good fun. In suits, and acting well ‘ard, they almost came a cropper with their bursts of conscience, but managed to kill poor Clarence just in time. Richard turned up just afterwards, and instead of giving them their reward, killed them both. Nasty.

After Edward’s death, when the court has agreed to bring the Prince back to London for his coronation, Buckingham’s comment to Richard about being in the party that accompanies the Prince came across as the first time that Buckingham has sided with Richard against the other factions. I also felt that Richard was acting the innocent with Buckingham at this stage, allowing himself to be led in the direction he intended to go anyway. This made their disagreement after Richard’s coronation easier to understand.

At the meeting to arrange the Prince’s coronation, Richard’s accusations against Lord Hastings are clearly preposterous, but it’s equally clear than no one dares to speak up against the most powerful man in the country. Tyrrel, the murderer of the two princes, is another creepy character. He wears a grinning mask and a tool belt with some nasty-looking pieces of equipment dangling from it. I didn’t get the film reference, but I assume it must be one. After he killed the two young boys I noticed he also had a small teddy bear attached to the belt – I think it was the same as the teddy bear which Richard gave him as the token to gain access to the princes.

The alternating scenes before the final battle were also well done, with both Richard and Henry sleeping in the middle of the stage, side by side, while the ghosts lined up behind them and then came round in front to deliver their curses/blessings. The only trouble I had with this was that the dialogue overlapped, so it was hard to hear either part clearly, but as I’m familiar with this scene it didn’t bother me too much.

I also found that the production flagged a bit once Richard was downcast. His personality had driven the action and kept us entertained, and once his light dimmed, the whole energy of the piece dropped as well. This made the final scenes less interesting, and although the ensemble worked very well together, this was a production based on the central performance, and it suffered as a result. Mind you, the rest of it had been good enough to beat most other productions, so it’s not a major complaint.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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

Richard III – February 2007

6/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Michael Boyd

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Saturday 10th February 2007

Coming at the end of a long day’s play watching, it’s not too surprising that I felt a bit overdone by the end of the evening. I did enjoy this production, however, although my mind wasn’t as sharp as it might have been.

I don’t need to go through the story for this one. There were a few edits that I noticed, specifically the reference to time when Buckingham is asking Richard for his promised reward. On the whole, though, this seemed a fairly complete reading, and carried on where the Henry VIs had left off.

This play is much more about the political manoeuvring between the various factions and Richard’s manipulation of everyone, with the battle being saved for the final scenes. As a result, it seemed calmer than the prequels, though there’s still a lot of action. Richard does bustle about in his efforts to get the throne, and Jonathan Slinger reflected that in his performance. It’s always interesting to see how much Richard is in command and how much he’s winging it. Here I would say he’s more of a brash gambler, making his play and putting heart and soul into it. If it doesn’t come off, too bad, but he’ll do everything he can to make it happen.

The wooing of Anne was successful, as usual, but I wasn’t fully convinced he’d pulled it off. Richard’s manner rarely changed; he was much the same throughout the play, so there was less light and shade than I’m used to (or should that be shade and darkness). I felt the humour was being worked at a little too hard at times, though it was all still enjoyable. The build up to this play through the previous two was excellent, and so his character was already developed from the off.

Mad Margaret, played by Katy Stephens, was the best I’ve seen, all fire and venom. Her character had become more bitter through her experiences, and she could still talk. Which is just as well, because that’s what her character’s there for – to tell all the others just how bad things are, how much worse they’re going to get, and how much she hates them all.

For this play, they were using modern weapons and we heard helicopters overhead. It can be a little awkward doing this when there are so many references to swords, but I felt they handled it very well. The scene where Richard is pretending to the Mayor of London that he’s under attack was staged with him and Buckingham besieged behind an overturned table, looking like there was a house to house gun battle raging. They convinced the Mayor enough to make him nervous too, although as he probably grasped something of the political situation he was getting involved in, he’d have been nervous anyway.

That’s all I can remember now, after a long gap. I made a cryptic note about the murders and the execution of the second murderer, but that will have to wait till we see them again next February. Hopefully it will all make sense then. I also remember that the ghosts before the battle were well done, but don’t recall the detail.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me