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Richard III – Liverpool Playhouse

Reviewer: Phil Goodwin

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Adjoa Andoh

Was society to blame for “punching down” on Richard III for his physical disability and creating a monster? By stepping into the shoes of Shakespeare’s most notorious villain, director and star Adjoa Andoh wants us to reconsider his murderous rise to the throne through the lens of otherness.

Andoh cites her own upbringing in the Cotswolds as the inspiration for playing Richard as a black woman – adding a personal dimension to a play she has loved since childhood. Such casting is not new – Danai Gurira, of Black Panther fame, played the role last summer in New York – but the combination of this with a rural setting does make this production quite unique.

The story is set at the end of the Wars of the Roses as hard-won peace under the newly-crowned Edward IV is shattered by the ambition and ruthlessness of his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Stripped of regal pomp and decoration – white robes, West Country accents, wooden clubs for swords and thornbushes for crowns – there is touch of pastoral innocence to this courtly intrigue.

Andoh’s Richard is first humiliated and incapacitated in a May dance, a boar’s head mask placed on his head, before setting out his intentions to “prove a villain” in this “weak piping time of peace”. He scampers and schemes his way to power beneath a leafy canopy – the growing list of victims dispatched one after another at a shadowy block behind a central oak tree. And this simplicity lays bare the jealous and deceitful manipulations of a “bottled spider” who feels less menacing than usual, more delusional, deranged.

Andoh, who is currently reprising her role as Lady Danbury in the third series of Bridgerton, is energetic throughout, ably assisted by Joseph Kloska who is excellent as sidekick Buckingham. Rachel Sanders is commanding as the Queen, Lady Grey, while Liz Kettle is chilling as Queen Margaret, cursing the bloodshed. Assistant Director Harriett O’Grady also deserves special mention, stepping in for Clive Brill as Lord Hastings, after illness.

The production springs into life after the interval and speeds toward the infamous finale on Bosworth Field. The land is restored with a gentle folk tradition but questions over the origins of Richard’s brutality linger.

Runs until 22 April 2023 then at the Rose Theatre, Kingston from 26 April 2023.

The Reviews Hub Score

Simplicity reigns

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The Reviews Hub - North West

The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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