Sunday, 14 August 2016

Richard III (Almeida Theatre)

After my trip to London to see Harry Potter, I returned to London the following  weekend for a very different theatrical production - Shakespeare's Richard III , featuring Ralph Fiennes as Richard, and Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Margaret, at the Almeida Theatre in Islington.

ralph fiennes as Rochard III, blurred moving
Production photo

The Almeida is fairly small, so the setting is very intimate, a feeling increased by the fact that this production uses the side aisles a lot, for entrances and exists (and let me tell you, glancing to one side an realising that Richard III is just standing, silently, there, is quite unnerving!) 

The play opens with a scene form the 2012 excavation of the car park in Leicester where Richard's remains were found. Actors in hi-vis vests are digging on stage as the audience make their way to their seats. I am not entirely convinced that this framing helped the production; Shakespeare's Richard not having a great deal in common with the historic one.

Fiennes is a chilling Richard - convincingly murderous, with little of the wry humour you sometimes see.And at times, as when he literally licks blood from the block after Hastings' execution, utterly horrifying.   And he draws the audience in, making everyone complicit in his deeds.

In one scene, as he is plotting the murder of his nephews he approaches members of the audience, asking "is thy name Tyrrell" , as if expecting to find a mercenary murderer in the front row, and so convincingly that it does not seem at all unlikely that he might.

He is ably supported by Aislin McGuckin as Queen Elizabeth, and Finbar Lynch as Buckingham. Vanessa Redgrave appears as Queen Margaret, quiet and inexorable, rather than the more aggressive, virago like way the character is often portrayed.

As the play progresses, skulls start to appear on the back wall behind the stage, one for each of Richard's (named) victims - (and his brother Edward) - Clarence, Rivers, Hastings, Anne, Young Edward and Richard and Buckingham, a silent testimony to the violence of his rise to the throne.

There are a few false notes in the production There is an entirely gratuitous rape scene, and there is a rather odd costuming change at the end - Richmond appears wearing a single arm's worth of armour (Winter Soldier style) over his business suit, and then gradually the other characters are armoured-up to allow for a final battle with swords, pikes and armour. It is rather jarring and doesn't really work, and the lighting in this scene is also poorly thought out.

Still, all in all, it's a very good production, and Fiennes is a deliciously scary Richard.

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