This isn’t a sponsored post.
BrumHour was invited to see Richard III at the invite of The RSC.
By David Fox twitter.com/DavidFoxTheatre
Review: Richard III at The RSC
⭐⭐⭐⭐”Stylish, timely, and thought-provoking”
Directed by Gregory Doran
Richard III: the subject of one of William Shakespeare’s most famous ‘History’ plays. Perhaps now most famous as the king whose body was found under a Leicester car park, Shakespeare’s play presents Richard as scheming, tyrannical, and downright evil. How much of his evil reputation is deserved is open for debate – was he a good king maligned by history? Or is Shakespeare’s version of events purely Tudor propaganda to flatter Queen Elizabeth I, whose grandfather defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth?
Following the events of The Wars of the Roses, Richard, Duke of Gloucester desires to usurp his brother and become King of England. Scorned due to his disability Richard becomes jealous and uses lies, manipulation and deceit to achieve his goal – the ultimate in Machiavellian skills. He murders his brothers, nephews (the infamous Princes in the Tower), and any opposition to achieve his goal and become King Richard III. But how suited is Richard to this powerful position? And how long can he remain in power and stave off the armies amassing against him?
This latest version of Richard III, directed by outgoing Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, is the culmination of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s mission to produce the complete canon of Shakespeare plays, and the presentation of Shakespeare’s History cycle of plays – beginning in 2013 with David Tennant’s Richard II, through the ‘Henries’ (Henry IV, V, and VIs). While these past productions add another level of knowledge surrounding the history of the Wars of the Roses and the political turmoil of the time, prior knowledge is not essential, and this play can certainly be enjoyed as a stand-alone production.
This production sees something of a landmark moment, as for the first time a disabled actor, Arthur Hughes, has been cast in the title role of the “deformed-unfinished” King Richard III.
In a recent interview in The Big Issue, Hughes himself said:
Richard has been a character I’ve wanted to play for ages, and I’m sure many other disabled actors feel a similar connection to him. Being underestimated, overlooked, shunned and forgotten about, this is what disabled people experience daily in an ableist society and have experienced since Shakespeare’s time and before.
The significance then, of having this character represented by a disabled body on stage cannot be underestimated.”
Hughes takes this role into a new dimension and gives an excellent, energetic performance – at times comedic, at times manic, at times scheming, showing vulnerability towards the end and even succeeding in making us feel sympathy for the despot. As usual, the RSC boasts a fantastic ensemble cast with so many excellent performances. I particularly enjoyed Claire Benedict as the Duchess of York, Kirsty Bushell as Elizabeth, and Rosie Sheehy as Anne, with special note for Conor Glean and Joerarver Sangha for bringing humour amongst the horrors (even during a murder scene!)
The set design for the history plays has been consistently excellent. I was really impressed in this production by the stark stage, lit blood-red, towered over throughout by a cenotaph representing the ever-present them of war, and the following peace. Doran cleverly uses descending chains, lighting, and projection to make the action visually interesting and dynamic, and I thought the use of the actors to create a powerful horse during the end battle scene was stunning. Personally, I prefer to see Shakespeare productions (certainly the Histories) using period-accurate costume, so these productions have been particularly pleasing.
While all of this adds up to produce a beautiful production, the story of the play is superb and as always, the themes of the play are gripping. There are lots of famous quotes throughout Richard III, and it was a joy to listen to the poetry and musicality of the Shakespearean language performed by fantastic actors, in a world-class theatre (probably my favourite!)
The RSC’s Richard III is a stylish-looking production, timely in its subject matter, and thought-provoking in its presentation. It does not matter if you are an experienced Shakespearean scholar or brand new first-timer – there is much to enjoy in this production which is highly recommended.
In his time as Artistic Director, Gregory Doran has not only ensured The RSC has weathered the storm of the covid-19 pandemic taken The RSC to new levels in terms of the quality of its productions, and in its inclusive practice for actors and creative staff. I am a big fan of Doran’s productions and I hope he maintains his association with the company and returns in the future to direct more plays.
Stylish, timely, and thought-provoking, Richard III is at The RSC until 8th October 2022. Book tickets here: rsc.org.uk/richard-iii.