Richard III – Royal and Derngate, Northampton

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: John Haidar

Reviewer: James Garrington

All too often productions which label themselves “innovative” and “revelatory” turn out to be anything but that – simply a recycling of old ideas with a relatively minor tweak here and there. While, as they say, there’s nothing new in theatre, this production of Richard IIIby Headlong could certainly never be described as run-of-the-mill.

We all know how Richard III starts – “Now is the winter of our discontent” – but not this time. Instead, before we get to that part we have another scene, taken from Henry VI Part 3. Highly unusual maybe, but actually it serves to set the scene very nicely. It’s rather like watching a few minutes of the previous episode as a reminder of the story so far, as you find in most TV drama series. Henry is dead, murdered by Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Edward is on the throne, and although Richard is not next in the line of succession, he has a plan.

The play is all about Richard of course, and Tom Mothersdale gives us a performance that is quite unlike most that you may see. This version of Richard is actually quite an engaging character, a man who makes you laugh. It’s a performance full of little shrugs, of sideways glances to the audience. He’s not just the slimy, evil character we’ve come to expect but all in all a more complex individual, and that makes him seem more real, more alive. As a result, his murdering spree has more impact, with the killing and conspiracy interspersed with a lot of genuine humour. He is ambitious, beyond a doubt. He is determined to get what he wants and will stop at nothing to achieve it. As much as anything though, he seems to want people to like him despite his actions.

This is an extremely accessible Richard IIIand a lot of it is about the delivery – not just the humour, but most of the dialogue. Although the set is pretty mediaeval in appearance, the costumes are modern and the production has a very contemporary feel – not least when Buckingham (Stefan Adegbola) takes a hand-held microphone, the house lights go up and he addresses the audience as though it was a political rally, whipping up backing for Richard helped by supporters in the crowd. Adegbola is a pleasant and smiling Buckingham, supportive of Richard but not prepared to go to the same extremes. Tom Kanji’s Catesby is a man happy to do whatever it takes to stay in favour, while Leila Mimmack gives a well-judged performance as a grief-stricken but conflicted Anne.

If you think Shakespeare is stuffy, think again – and if you think you’ve seen Richard IIIand won’t bother seeing it again, think again too. This is a co-production, part of the Made in Northampton season, and the Royal & Derngate is clearly going from strength to strength as a producing house right here in the Midlands. Here they’ve given us a version of the classic that is at least as good as any you will see in Stratford, and which might easily provide you with new insights into the play and the characters. It’s very nicely done indeed and definitely recommended whether or not you’re usually a Shakespeare fan.

Runs Until 25 May 2019 | Image: Marc Brenner

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Engaging and insightful

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. 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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