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DUBLIN THEATRE FESTIVAL: Richard III – Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Garry Hynes

Reviewer: Sarah Hoover

Richard III (played with a nod to Antony Sher’s 1984 ‘bottle spider’ on two sticks by Druid favourite Aaron Monaghan) is a Teflon courtier; there is no good reason that his insectile climb up the ladder towards kingship isn’t thwarted. Why does Lady Anne (Siobhán Cullen) accept his marriage proposal, made over the corpse of the husband Richard killed? Why does the court so instantly accept his accusations of treason that Hastings’ (Garrett Lombard) execution happens within seconds of Richard’s demand? We accept the narrative because it steamrolls through one terrible murder to another and, rubberneckers at a pile-up, we can’t look away.

We certainly can’t look away from Garry Hynes’ well-constructed stage images, set within Francis Connor’s enveloping steel walls and Mars-scape cyc – grounded by its dirt floor complete with disappearing grave. Along with the leather-and-sparkles mod-Elizabethan costuming (co-designed by Doreen McKenna), the contrast between huge cool walls and warm lighting (designed with knife-edged precision by James F. Ingalls) emphasises the marks made on the court, literally printed in the dirt (most noticeably the line – dot movements of Monaghan’s disabled Richard). Ironically, though the women in the play (including the Kathleen Ní Houlihan-like phantom Margaret, played by Marie Mullen) are the oracles through which curses are pronounced, their huge, liquid trains wipe the dirt floor clean of footprints, erasing the deeds for which Richard is cursed.

Monaghan too is clearly worth watching. His delivery varies masterfully between playful and vicious, athletic and injured. The tone of the piece, a dark humour edging into insanity, is mostly carried by his lively sense of timing. He makes excellent use of his sticks to extend the range of his movements, for example stretching almost horizontally toward the stricken King Edward to suck the juice out of every moment of Edward’s suffering. Marty Rea too carries the train-wreck sense that we should not be just sitting and watching him carry out Richard’s orders, though we are drawn to his bowler-hatted, Nordie-voiced Catesby. Rea is the matter-of-fact foil to Monaghan’s furor – particularly as he manages the increasing pace of executions (under cold fluorescents and using a bolt gun) with maximum dramatic impact.

Worth a mention for challenging Richard in quickness and cleverness is Queen Elizabeth, who finds a core of strength in Jane Brennan’s desperate delivery during Richard’s attempt to claim Elizabeth’s daughter. Ingrid Craigie’s Duchess of York and Rory Nolan’s Buckingham show us characters who have reason to care about Richard’s success (as his mother and co-conspirator), and whose betrayal shapes our attitude toward the megalomaniac. The entire ensemble (mostly in doubled parts and including Frank Blake, Peter Daly, Zara Devlin, Seán McGinley, and John Olohan) works effectively to backdrop the Shakespearean narrative – whose similarities to today’s political landscape are impossible to ignore.

Runs until 13 October 2018 | Image: Jack Robbie

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