Pros: The no-frills adaptation and minimalist setting allow the darkness of the play to come into full effect, and there are some excellent performances to enjoy.
Cons: The play’s subtlety suffers from its shortening, and Richard doesn’t quite manage to convince.
This year Lazarus Theatre is one of the many theatre companies celebrating the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, and their Richard III is a party you’ll want to be invited to. Generally considered to be one of Shakespeare’s finest works, the play chronicles the rise to power of the Machiavellian Richard, who is tired of standing in the shadow of his brother King Edward IV. Carefully picking at the barely-healed scabs of the War of the Roses, and cleverly pitting his family members against one another, Richard plots his way to the throne. But bad karma isn’t scared off by a shiny crown, and Richard grows ever more paranoid as his enemies close in on him.
Prince Plockey’s Richard is smoothly polished, but doesn’t manage to inspire the unwilling sympathy Shakespeare’s ultimate anti-hero is supposed to sweet-talk the audience into giving. Instead, this performance belongs to the women, who, despite falling victim to the men’s machinations, are fierce and powerful in their anger. You can practically see Catherine Thorncombe (Anne) spit fire as she curses Richard in righteous fury over her father-in-law’s body, and Roseanna Morris (Elizabeth) does insincere sweetness so convincingly she probably should’ve been in politics.
Director Gavin Harrington-Odedra is also responsible for the adaptation, which significantly shortens Shakespeare’s second-longest play. While this has the advantage of cutting the run time down to a short two hours, very manageable for the less avid Bard fans, it inevitably takes away from the text’s subtlety as Richard schemes his way onto the throne. Nevertheless, the alterations are clearly made with great consideration, and this tightening up is very much in keeping with the overall style of the production. There’s not one ounce of fat on this Richard’s bones, which uses hardly anything beyond the bare black walls of Blue Elephant Theatre’s stage, and the show is all the more effective for it. The murder scenes especially have a 1984-type ruthlessness to them, with Clarence being drowned in a bucket of water or Buckingham tied to a chair, surrounded by tools like a crowbar and a rusty saw. A recent Almeida hit that comes to mind is American Psycho, which also featured men in suits and plastic aprons doing unspeakably gory stuff in a nicely stylised manner. Had it been a simple case of hitching a ride on someone else’s success these features would have felt out of place. Here though, they work very well, gently placing the play in a modern context rather than dragging it there kicking and screaming.
All in all Lazarus’ Richard provides a pleasantly tight addition to the play’s recent performance history. The perfect cure for the last remainders of your winter of discontent blues.
Author: William Shakespeare
Adapted and directed by: Gavin Harrington-Odedra
Theatre Company: Lazarus Theatre
Box Office: 020 7701 0100
Booking Link: http://www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk/richard-iii
Booking Until: 29th March 2014