Review: Richard III

Zoe Barnes 27 October 2018

★★★

This is not Richard III as you know it. Transported to a 1980s bar, the setting is one of gang warfare and the ensuing tensions created. It is, then, perhaps odd how accepting the figures in this production seem to be of their deaths. No guns pulled, no attempts to run away and no need to restrain anyone. Perhaps certain dramatic choices would have made more sense if the setting was simply a death cult. It is, however, a highly amusing and well-constructed production, well worth taking the time to see.

Stanley Thomas, for all his evident talent, is unfortunately miscast as the titular character and while he delivers his lines competently enough, his Richard comes across as annoying rather than menacing. It makes his scenes rather underwhelming, even uninteresting. Meanwhile, his hunchback appears to hinder him in his performance rather than allowing for the aggressive stage presence that one expects in such a difficult and infamous role. During his first monologue, unnecessary music detracts from the performance and appears to shows a lack of faith on the part of the director. Music is used throughout in this way, often too loud and overshadowing any actor unable to mark themselves apart from it.

In contrast, Niamh Curran as Margaret turns the music that seemed so out of place during scenes with Richard to her advantage and crescendos with it, though it could still have been done away with entirely. Her characterisation is passionate, angry, quiet and subtle. She gives a thoroughly convincing performance of her scenes, as if she is actually thinking whilst she speaks, rather than just reading lines. However, in doing so, her presence somewhat exposes the weaknesses of others and it does feel rather a shame to see her exit the stage.

The stage itself is interesting, and the cast are confident working in relation to the set. The set design by Tim Otto – a dingy, green room with all the trappings of an eighties bar – is a delight, at first, and used well throughout. It is, however, perhaps excessively complicated, and having stage managers visibly moving the set so often is a little alienating. The lighting design (Susi Mauer) is competent, but certain choices seem a little strange. Occasional jarring swathes of green light illuminate the stage and, at first, they almost seem to be a technical error. Blackouts for scene-changes also felt a little unnecessary.

Ella Blackburn as Anne is one of the highlights of the production, delivering her lines with the aplomb they deserve. Her ‘cursed be the heart that had the heart to do it’ is believable and raw but some of her expressions were lost at times. Joe Tyler Todd as King Edward is also excellent. He maintains a subtle understanding of his lines and an emotional depth that allows him to hit every note. He is another character that you feel sad to see leave. Annabelle Haworth as Richmond and Tabitha Bardsley as Elizabeth are also skillful and entertaining, the latter growing into her part as the play progresses.

The battle scene is built up to a little clumsily, but was very fun to watch and the ending was rewarding and validated the viewing experience. All in all, the play was entertaining and well worth the price of a ticket. Richard III can be a difficult piece to stage, especially given how often it is performed. Aaron Kilercioglu attempts to mount a performance that doesn’t feel like something you’ve seen a hundred times before and his production should be commended for generally succeeding in its endeavours.