Pros: A captivatingly unique interpretation of the title role and solid performances from the rest of the cast.
Cons: The design was the victim in the budget, which gave the production the look of a school play.
Upon entering the theatre, a castle wall that looked like painted cardboard greeted me, and my heart sank. The set had the look of a budget Shakespeare production interpreted by enthusiastic amateurs, or something at home in a school hall. As I perused the programme and noted the impressive credits of the actors, I began to question my initial impression. Fortunately, the set was an insignificant backdrop to some marvelous performances.
The theatre company Custom/Practice claimed this production was a response to the upcoming re-internment of Richard’s remains. Expecting something current, I was confused by the mostly medieval costumes and traditional staging. The costumes, like the set, were redolent of a school or college production because of their inconsistencies. A particularly obvious example was Margaret’s dyed red hair alongside her Elizabethan dress. Several cast members wore modern shoes and some of the costumes were a mélange of overly bright colours and styles. Richmond even wore a random biker jacket that was painfully out of place. Even though this production did not have a flashy, contemporary concept, there is a lot to be said for a production that is well spoken, pacey and with excellent performances.
Director Rae Mcken made some excellent casting choices. In the title role, Noof Ousellam is a tall, attractive man who happens to have a curved spine and limp. His Richard is subtle, devious, matter of fact, and entirely believable in his manipulation of the other characters. Rather than playing him as a comedy villain, Ousellam’s performance suggests that Richard charmingly murdered his way to the throne. His stage presence is magnetic and his verse handling flawless. The other performers, while very good, struggle to equal Ousellam’s abilities. Though, James Corley as Clarence is a lovely contrast to his hapless assassins, providing a lighthearted moment that takes advantage of Shakespeare’s comic potential. Imogen Slaughter, as Elizabeth, is fantastic in her fight against Richard and eventual consent of his marriage to her daughter. Hastings (Jeremy Drakes) was a bit overacted but not extremely so. Casting a young, clean cut Oliver Mott as Tyrell was atypical, but all the more unsettling. Lynne Miller shone as Richard’s mother, the Duchess of York. Some of the characters could have used more development, such as Rebecca Loudon’s Lady Anne and Mott’s doubling as Richmond.
Although nearly three hours with an interval, and despite the uncomfortable bleacher-style seating at The Cockpit, the production’s pace and energy ensured it did not feel that long. Some directorial additions, like the beautiful coronation scene where we see Anne is ‘ill’, were lovely touches. The sound design, however, often felt extraneous and tacked on. Some of the transitions were slow but should pick up with time. The ritual following Richard’s death, during which he was stripped and laid out in a Christ position opposite a lit cross on the floor, was a striking visual, but did not connect to any particular characterization. Mcken certainly has good ideas, but some could use refining.
If a solid, well-acted Shakespeare is something you enjoy, this certainly hits the spot, as long as you overlook the design.