Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Review Richard III

Richard III
by William Shakespeare

Living The Dream

Near the end of the Arcola Theatre's Richard III we gained a glimpse of what this production could have been.

Richard (Greg Hicks) has just been visited in his sleep by those he has wronged and murdered. Suddenly the pangs of conscience cripple him. Hicks's Richard in a nuanced soliloquy envelops us with the cold sweat of the villain as both his past and future merge and he turns his frightened gaze round the audience.

It's a highlight of an otherwise mostly over-emphatic production directed by Mehmet Ergen which nevertheless has other instances of clarity and ingenuity.

Mark Jax's suddenly repentent murderer is both comic and affecting. There's a modern chime to Jim Bywater's Mayor of London, puzzled but then expediently adapting to all the twists and turns, as well as when we hear from Peter Guinness's savvy Buckingham the reaction of the London crowd and the city wives.

Annie Firbank's fine Duchess of York, Richard's mother, conveys a clear-sighted doughty aristocrat, becoming a spokeswoman for the grieving Royal widows dislodged by the son she abhors.   

However, at other times we found the inconsistency of the mash up strange and distracting.

The start of the play places us in Italian café society with Richard in black leather  - part mafiosi, part Stasi - sipping on wine and spinning a tiny top. When he stands up to the cawing of crows, we see the chain extending from flexed foot to his hands to help him walk. Bespectacled Matthew Sim as Catesby extends the sense of a Communist apparatchik or Fascist henchman carrying out Richard's instructions.     

At another time we wondered whether we were in the midst of artisans who decided a change was needed from usual mystery plays, deciding instead to put on the arch-Machiavel's story. Yet the concept seemed tried  - and then left behind.

The overpowering television-style sound effects also struck us as intrusive, sometimes unnecessarily disturbing the rhythm and tension of the play.

We've nothing against a production paced television thriller style. But we were far too aware of the sound effects rather than the sound being seamlessly part of the background. In one instance, a very loud cock crow was followed by the information that - er - a cock had crowed.

Anthony Lamble's two tier design is fine as far as the lower space goes, surrounded by the audience on three sides. However, sitting in the seats stage left, we had major sightline problems for the upper tier. The raised walkway running above our seats blocked our view of the second tier at the back of the space and the actors above mainly had their backs towards us. This felt like a thoughtless piece of staging.

Hicks certainly has the potential to be a great crow-like Richard III but we felt he was hampered by more than his chains in an uneven production which needed more variety in its pacing. Individually there were some fine performances and good moments but overall it's an amber light.

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