Review: Richard III
An introspective Richard brings an exciting dimension to Shakespeare’s history play
This Richard III, a co-production between Bristol Old Vic, Headlong and Alexandra Palace, is fresh, pacey, and intensely focused on the motivations and mechanisms of its eponymous character.
Director John Haidar makes an interesting decision to move the “Now is the winter of our discontent” opening monologue to the second scene, so that the very first thing we see is Richard killing the king. This is bold in two ways: it jolts the audience right from the beginning, wrong-footing their expectations; and it puts Richard’s appetite for murder centre stage. This appetite is apparent throughout the play, so that through all Richard’s wily words, orations, and scheming asides, the bloody violence of his words is forefront in the audience’s mind.
Tom Mothersdale plays Richard’s ill doings with a light-hearted relish: a disconcerting combination that has the audience laughing at his word play one moment, and (literally, for the couple sitting in front of me) gasping at his cruelty the next. It’s an interesting exploration into the nature of evil, that has at its heart both hatred and enjoyment. This odd mix of contrasting emotions is also shown in the characters around Richard: when his mother the Duchess curses him for ever having been born and herself for not strangling him at birth, she ends this litany of curses by crouching down to Richard and giving him a brief kiss on the cheek, before departing forever.
It is these gestural additions that this production excels at, offering a complexity and confusion that almost becomes another ghost within the play. Scenes are made at turns funnier, darker, and richer through these gestures, keeping the audience on its toes and hyper aware of the staging.
The supporting cast is fantastic – with special mention to Stefan Adegbola, Derbhle Crotty and Leila Mimmack playing Buckingham, Elizabeth and Anne respectively. Their nuanced characterisations offer three fascinating reactions to Richard’s domination.
This is a production that refuses to offer easy categorizations, disrupting any binaries of good/evil and flexing the audience’s own perceptions, judgements, and beliefs about humanity. Well worth a trip.
Richard III is on at the Bristol Old Vic until Sat 13 April. Tickets from £11.50.
Bristol Old Vic, King Street, Bristol BS1 4ED. Box office 0117 9877877
Words: Alex Sayers. Photos: Marc Brenner