Re-review: Richard III, Propeller at Hampstead Theatre

“I like you lads; about your business straight”

It seems only natural that Edward Hall would bring Propeller’s touring double bill of Richard III and The Comedy of Errors to the Hampstead Theatre, he is after all the Artistic Director for both the all-male Shakespeare company and the Swiss Cottage venue, but when the shows were first announced, there was no mention of London in the tour. Keen to have my first Propeller experience, trips were made to Guildford and Sheffield to see the shows and then as sod’s law would have it of course, a short residency in London was announced. Still, I am glad that I got to see the shows earlier, way back in November in the case of Richard III, as it has meant I was able to see them, love them, recommend them to all and sundry as they toured the country and finally get to revisit both shows as I’m pretty sure this is about as good as interpretations of Shakespeare can get.

 My review of Richard III back in November in Guildford can be read here and to be honest and somewhat less than humble, reading it back, I think it is one of my best pieces of writing in capturing how exhilarating a production it is and how enthusiastic I felt about it. Very little of my exceedingly positive opinion has changed and taking in a second viewing allowed me to appreciate some of the smaller details that passed me by first time round as there really are so many inventive touches in here, it feels impossible to soak them all in with a single viewing.

The only real difference I felt was that foreknowledge of the musical backdrop meant that it had less of an impact: not in a bad way but rather it demanded less of my attention which meant I could focus more on the strength of the acting and the beautiful natural flow of the verse-speaking from pretty much every member of the company. I won’t list all the actors I loved again, but Clothier’s almost-supernatural super-villain is a truly stirring central presence, whilst Tony Bell and Dominic Tighe’s Queens Margaret and Elizabeth respectively create worlds of fiery and keening emotion in amongst the state-craft.

It may be that Kevin Spacey’s turn in the same play at the Old Vic will grab more of the headlines and at the moment I’m not sure if I will make it to see this final incarnation of The Bridge Project, but I find it hard to believe that that production could match the anarchic panache on display here from Propeller, imbuing this historical tragedy with an irresistible mordant humour and the kind of energy any theatrical production, never mind just Shakespeare, would kill for.

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