“Every tale condemns me for a villain”
Undoubtedly the best known of the constituent plays of The Wars of the Roses, Richard III appears in a slightly shortened version to wrap up nearly nine hours of theatre. And as such it is solid rather than spectacular, not hugely notable in its own right but slotting perfectly into place as the final piece of this epic trilogy. The culmination of over half a century of internecine conflict, several lifetimes of ruthless ambition and no little amount of pitiless bloodletting, the end is brutal but welcomed.
Robert Sheehan’s Richard dances darkly across the stage, quick as you like in vicious word and bloody deed, and gives forth enough charisma to suggest he could hold many in thrall. Aided by the Mandelson-like spin from Alexander Hanson’s Buckingham and any number of factotums willing to carry out dastardly requests, he is able to effectively play on the sense of a ruined society that has been built over the preceding two plays.
And being able to call back on events that audiences most likely will have recently seen, these references in the text are enriched by the memory of Richard stabbing Henry VI, Clarence’s complicated relationship with his brothers, even Margaret’s very presence in the play. In isolation she’s just the “hateful wither’d hag” spouting prophecies but here, we see the greater tragedy of a former queen laid so low, an aged-up Joely Richardson eerily evoking her mother Vanessa Redgrave.
The highlight of Trevor Nunn’s production for me though is Alexandra Gilbreath’s Queen Elizabeth, Edward IV’s widow and mother to those princes in the tower, the ardent anguish and anger that drives through the second half is beautifully spoken, expertly delivered and so passionately felt that it was hard to wonder what she could have made of the role of Margaret, I’d wager it would have been superlative.