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Crookback, Etcetera Theatre

William Shakespeare, adapted by Tim Welham
Directed by Megan Watson

★★★

Pros: As one man shows of Shakespeare’s go, this was a feat to behold. Done with a succinct and intelligent adaptation of the script of Richard III.

Cons: Richness of character and story get lost in this pared down version of the play. Those who are not familiar with the script are in danger of feeling lost, as all contextualising action and dialogue have been cut.

Our Verdict: One applauds the immense feat of a solo performance for this great play. The production itself came across as slightly self-indulgent, with one man playing some of the Bard’s greatest parts. 

For this version of Shakespeare’s Richard III, one would have to be a bit of a Shakespeare buff. Creator and solo performer Tim Welham’s hope was of ‘re-energising Richard III‘. He has aimed to mitigate the complexities of the story and characters by cutting the sub plots and historical references. Whilst Shakespeare is already not easily understood in its fully-formed glory, cutting out most of the surrounding context does not necessarily make it any easier. As I left the theatre, I overheard that I was not the only one thankful for their familiarity with the Bard’s work.
The Tragedy of Richard III is the finale to five preceding plays on war, though stands alone as a play in its own right. The original un-cut version of the script probably stands at four hours minimum. To cut the script to a pithy 70 minutes while maintaining the general through line of the story is no small feat. The original play sees the conclusion of The War of the Roses and the bloody rise to the throne of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. It also sees his inevitable downfall and the victory of Richmond, marking the beginning of the Tudor era and the reign of Queen Elizabeth I’s family.
I didn’t miss what may be perceived as extraneous material and found the story very clear in its approach of focusing on the main event. Shakespeare’s stories rely on personalities, words and relationships. I felt something was lost in compressing certain relationships and dialogue as well as cutting certain characters such as his brother Clarence and his mother the Duchess of York. In cutting the likes of his brother’s premonition of being murdered and the curses of his own mother, a certain psychosis from Richard’s character is removed. The insight into the cause and overall depth of his evil is lost, making him more one dimensional than he is or should be.
Similarly, despite Welham’s obvious talent for character creation, having one person play all the parts, slightly deflates the depth of some truly interesting and complex characters. While Welham’s Richard was strong, there were some curious choices in the other characterizations. Notably an Australian murderer (I don’t think the work/travel visa was invented yet), a Texan Buckingham and a cockney Royal Prince.
The female characters were the weakest of the characterizations. Anne was far too easily won over by her husband’s murderer, whilst Elizabeth took far too much time to develop a personality distinguashable from Anne’s. Also, Margaret appearing as a haggard ghost with a voice from an Alien planet, was a choice which although common, I have never found logical.
Transitions from character to character, particularly in dialogue, were smooth and impressive. The use of names on a chalkboard as a body count of Richard’s victims was a helpful device in keeping track of the parts of the plot we did not see. This was augmented by good old fashioned cassette tapes containing additional dialogue, played on stage. The tapes succeeded in filling the gaps of information that a one man performance on its own couldn’t completely convey.
Despite the above criticisms, Welham made numerous renditions that I found particularly insightful. His handling of Richard’s defeat at Bosworth was surprisingly touching. It is a talented actor that can make one see the sadness in even a villain’s demise.
To a degree, this is an actor’s production of Shakespeare. An opportunity for one man to showcase his talents by playing some of Shakespeare’s most meaty roles. Whilst the audience may be left feeling lost amidst the various monologues, there is no question that this is a pensive and intelligent production that Shakespeare fans will appreciate. Even those less familiar with the Bard will most definitely be in awe.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Crookback runs at Etcetera Theatre until 20th July 2013.

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