The Life and Death of Richard III – Barons Court Theatre, London

Reviewer: Adam Stevenson

Writer: William Shakespeare

Adaptors: Tabatha Ketteringham and Hugo Papiernik

Director: Matthew George-Williams

The Life and Death of Richard III, produced by theatre company Messy Kind, is an hour-long adaptation of Shakespeare’s second-longest work, hurtling from his declaration of villainy to his eventual comeuppance.

The lead actor of this production, Joshua J Parker, was recently quoted in a Guardian article about The Globe’s decision to cast their non-disabled artistic director in the lead role. He said that Richard III is a play about disability and that “there is an air of authenticity within that part that cannot be learned.” It’s an interesting take on a character who has little thought of authenticity and consciously plays many roles, from loving brother, wooing lover and devout contemplative, until he runs out of roles to play and breaks down in self-reproach.

Dressed in a grey suit and sporting a lank version of the Thomas Shelby haircut, Parker’s Richard is a single-minded juggernaut of a figure. He doesn’t use the soliloquies to plot or muse, his plans are already in his head and he rattles through them to keep the audience on side. Whether comforting the brother he’s arranged to be sent to the Tower, or wooing the woman he made a widower, he doesn’t play-act sympathy or love but uses the language of those emotions to trammel the other characters into agreement. This is a Richard who doesn’t play roles but simply overwhelms the people around him with his blazing-eyed monomaniacal focus. It’s a thrill to watch, as the character simply outwills everyone around him until he meets an ugly, growling, grunting death.

This relentlessness is largely down to Parker’s performance, but also the adaptation by Tabatha Ketteringham and Hugo Papiernik, which snaps through the play in double-quick time. Sometimes this means that the ins and outs of the plot are a little shaky, and it’s a shame to be rid of some of the stronger female characters, Margaret of Anjou and Richard’s mother, the Duchess of York, but it asserts a momentum which works well.

One element that hasn’t been cut out is the murders. While Shakespeare wrote most of these off-stage, it’s only the murder of the nephews that isn’t seen. The choice of murder weapon, the only element of the set, a St George’s flag, is used in a number of ways to grisly effect. The sound of Lady Anne’s heels screeching on the floor as she is murdered is particularly effective.

The rest of the cast is very good, with Thomas Bliss displaying an innocent bonhomie in his brief time as King Edward and Mathew George-Williams having fun playing a plain-spoken assassin and a firm Earl of Richmond. The play is ultimately Parker’s though, whose Richard leaves an indelible impression.

Runs until 10 February 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

A short, snarling take on Richard III

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. 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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