It’s nice to see The Faction switching things up a little. Their rep seasons at the New Diorama have considerably brightened up the last few Januaries with Shakespeare, Schiller and more but this year sees them drop the three play model for a single show in Richard III and expand their ensemble to 19 bodies, impressively increasing its diversity in age, colour and gender. The Faction’s playing style is stripped-back and largely prop-free, allowing a focus on physical expression to reinterpret the text.
It’s an approach that is suited to the black box of the New Diorama with its blood-red floor mat, Mark Leipacher’s production making varied and visceral use of bodies to form everything from the tower walls that imprison the young princes to the horse Richard rides into battle. And it’s clear that nothing is accidental here, every choice intelligently considered as seen in the bodies that make up the throne to which Gloucester finally accedes, being those of the four men he has most recently had killed.
Christopher York (not pictured ;-)) gives us a surprisingly supple and sexy Richard, who plays interestingly with notions of disability and perception. His “foul bunch-backed toad” only ever appears “deformed” when the text explicitly mentions it, the rest of the time York’s Richard appears able-bodied as he well might have considered himself. It’s primarily when others remind him – a vituperative Margaret making him wither with her words, the unthinking cruel humour of a playful nephew – that the reality of his body comes to the fore. Combined with a freshly modern take on the verse, it’s a striking lead performance.
But The Faction are an ensemble too and this production showcases that well. A near-spectral Margaret from Sakuntala Ramanee, all whispered incantations and omnipresent menace, and a beautifully modulated Duchess of York from Carmen Munroe (making her Shakespearean debut at 83 no less), raining curses down on her son with real venom. Anna-Maria Nabirye’s Buckingham is a thoughtful reinvention of the character, David Eaton’s murderer introduces a welcome note of dark comedy, reinforced by Lex Kosanke’s sound design.
With Chris Withers’ lighting sculpting fascinating shapes in the ether and the bodies of the ensemble conjuring a real physicality from the floor, this Richard III is imaginative and atmospheric. Its rough edges might ruffle the feathers of a purist here and there, but then that’s never a bad thing.