Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Lindsay Posner
Designer: Lee Newby
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
In both Lindsay Posner’s contributions to the four-play Shakespeare season at York’s pop-up Elizabethan theatre, he opts for a radical and precise updating. However, while the 1932 Italy setting of Romeo and Juliet is integral to the production and offers a different angle on the play, the contemporary world in Richard III seems more imposed from outside: we know it is 2018 because Ratcliffe vapes constantly and many of Richard’s victims do a quick change into Guantanamo-style orange jumpsuits before being summarily executed. The uneasy fit between play and period is illustrated by the alterations to two of the most famous deaths in Shakespeare: no butt of Malmsey for Clarence, no “My kingdom for a horse!” for Richard, though that line’s pedigree is dubious anyway.
Of course, it’s true that the story of a psychopathic tyrant sits rather well with 2018 and the production is powerful and effective, though it’s debatable how far that is due to the updating. The opening stages are lifted by Dyfan Dwyfor’s Richard of Gloucester. The synchronized group dancing for the entire cast (except Gloucester) to Come on, Eileen is a jolly enough start, but pretty pointless except to put the audience in the mood to laugh, often at the right times, at Richard’s “Now is the winter of our discontent….” speech. The scenes at court don’t excite, the poisonous atmosphere doesn’t really come over, characters, uninterestingly clad, form up in two groups and most movement is lateral.
Fortunately, Dwyfor establishes a fine rapport with the audience. He balances the evil and the comically sardonic perfectly, even if he can’t find the extra notch of the menace of the great Richards. By the time he pulls off the unlikeliest wooing of all time, with the feisty Lady Anne of Alexandra Dowling, the audience is firmly – and disconcertingly – on his side.
Apart from Richard, as so often in this play, the strongest impact comes from the women, especially in the two scenes where they rail in concert against their fate and curse Richard. Julie Legrand (Queen Margaret), Emily Raymond (Queen Elizabeth) and Julia Swift (Duchess of York) all attack the text and the characters with an intensity seldom found in the male characters.
As “The Lady of Buckingham”, though still billed as a duke in the programme, Shanaya Rafaat speaks the lines beautifully and is princely in her manner, but never convinces as Richard’s political ruthless sidekick or a danger to his kingdom. Robert Gwilym’s Lord Hastings is an incisive characterization of noble self-delusion, David Fleeshman conveys Lord Stanley’s ambiguous honesty and Dale Rapley doubles well as a dying, but passionate, Edward IV and a bemusedly accommodating Lord Mayor, but there are plenty of noble nonentities.
Compared with his Romeo and Juliet, Lindsay Posner’s use of the ground space is limited, but he makes excellent use of the Rose Theatre set-up in a first half that reminds us that this is Shakespeare’s second longest play: Dwyfor’s character feeds off the groundlings’ response to his asides to great effect.
Olly Fox’s music is dramatic and atmospheric, played by an admirably versatile, saxophone-dominated quartet, and Richard III is another production to benefit from night falling, especially in the well-staged and chilling scene of the ghosts tormenting Richard.
Runs in repertory until 1 September 2018 | Image: Ant Robling