Review: Richard III, Riverside Studios

“Oh thou well skilled in curses, stay awhile
And teach me how to curse mine enemies”

So after a nice break away from London, and seven whole days without a play, 2010’s theatregoing resumed with a trip to Richard III at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. Part of a season of plays entitled Desire and Destruction presented by the Love and Madness company, an ensemble of 10 actors are covering 3 plays around these ever-resonant themes, of which Richard III is the second to start (Fool For Love opened last week).

One of Shakespeare’s most celebrated works, Richard III is the story of the physically deformed Duke of Gloucester, a fiercely ambitious prince of the House of York whose hunger for the throne leads him down a Machiavellian path of endless murder, betrayals and general naughtiness as nothing will stop him from gaining what he so desires, even though it lays so far from him. Shakespeare played fast and loose with history in writing this play and so it lends itself to interpretation quite nicely (this production is presented in modern dress), being much more a study in uncontrolled ambition and the power of ‘spin’ in order to manipulate situations both publicly and privately to one’s own good.

Carl Prekopp does an admirable job, playing him with less of a hunchback and more of a palsy-related disability, but capturing perfectly the conspiratorial tone of the manipulative man on the make and getting the level of cruel comedy just right: I loved the way he constantly slunk around in the shadows, whether on the fringes of his family or the court. His descent into madness and paranoia is perhaps a touch overplayed, his physical performance becoming almost reptilian, but still convincing.

He is ably supported by an excellent cast, all of whom double up with roles, and sometimes more. I was most impressed with Jonathan Warde’s workrate, switching between three roles effortlessly in the first half alone, his taciturn executioner Tyrell was a particular delight and strangely fanciable(!), Simon Yadoo’s oleaginous Buckingham was highly enjoyable to watch and Candida Benson brought a real emotional depth to her Queen Elizabeth, fighting to save her remaining children from Richard’s clutches. Matt Sim’s fur-coated, darkly prophetic Margaret was something of an acquired taste, a bit jarring at first but slowly making more sense and it is unfortunate that Sadie Frost has Lady Anne, who makes the most inexplicable decision to marry the murderer of her husband and her father-in-law, as her only real contribution to the show, an odd character not helped by Frost’s rather emotionless reading, I wanted a bit more variance in her speaking voice, something that may come with time.

The staging is quite simplistic, just a conference table on wheels and some chairs being endlessly reconfigured which worked; the monochromatic palate also looked good, with the only colour being red, whether through the atmospheric lighting or the tie around Richard’s neck. The climactic battle however was played out in an interesting manner with movement and music being used to great effect visually; this was however completely at the expense of being able to hear the language so some sound balance issues need to be looked at there.

This was an interesting production of Richard III, the role of Richard with all his asides was made for more intimate theatrical spaces and the hard-working ensemble do well to keep one (mostly) engaged throughout the running time. I look forward to seeing how it is complemented by Demi-Monde, the final play in the season, but a final note to Riverside, please, please turn the heating up: three hours in the freezing cold does not a happy audience make.

Running time: 2 hours 55 minutes, with interval (in preview)
Programme cost: £3 (but it covers all 3 of the ‘Death & Destruction’ plays)

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