Pros: An interesting ensemble piece with some strong performances and impressive staging.
Cons: The execution could have been tidier.
Doing something ‘different’ with Shakespeare is always a tricky business.Ensemble group The Faction have made a valiant attempt that is cleverly conceived and powerfully presented, if sometimes not quite up to scratch in terms of execution.
This production of Richard III takes a physical approach with an ensemble on an empty black-box stage, and only an ominous red square across the floor for a set. The scene is expertly lit by Chris Withers’ seemingly simple but none the less powerful lighting design.
The cast is nineteen person strong, and it is in the talents of the ensemble that this production’s strengths lie. There’s an impressive age, race and gender diversity, which is pleasing to see, especially in Shakespeare. It is also rare to see such a large cast, particularly in a relatively small space, and even rarer to see a large cast being so effectively used. Many scenes bring in the full power of the multitude, such as the fiery battle scenes that resound with fast movement and noise, creating all the confusion of the battlefield.
The individual performances are strong across the board, with several supporting roles excelling. Carmen Munroe’s rendition of the Duchess is bewitching, Lachlan McCall’s Clarence is compelling, and Joss Wyre, though underused, was consistently impressive. In fact, the finest scene of the piece is the two executioners (David Eaton and Alexander Guiney, both handling the comedy excellently) coming for Clarence; the comic potential in the scene is neatly balanced with real emotional power as one of the executioners experiences a stab of conscience. As characters are killed off in Richard’s bloody quest, they linger around the edges of the stage to watch the action, first one, then another, more and more. Their presence provides a subtle poignancy to Richard’s lies.
In short, this play certainly has plenty good going for it – and yet it often misses its mark. Richard III, for those of you not familiar with the story, is a classic Shakespearean historical play- someone is king, someone else wants to become king, lots of someones have to be killed. It carries all the difficulties of a Shakespeare play, in particular characters who suddenly change allegiances at the drop of a hat. True, it’s a problem inherent in the text, but it felt like very little attempt was made to make these internal revolutions believable, leaving the audience without faith in the characters.
The play is also marred by some smaller problems. When required to act as one, the ensemble isn’t always synchronised. Several prerecorded sound effects were mistimed so that actors were visibly either waiting for or trying to catch up with the audio cue. Moments when the ensemble themselves provide the soundscape are particularly effective, so it would’ve been nice to see more of that. One particularly confusing sound effect was the morse code in Richard’s war office, since it begged the question of exactly when this retelling is set. Most of the costumes, while clearly modern, are sufficiently neutral to allow the audience to accept a non-specific setting, but a few extreme outfits seriously clash- the young prince wears a baggy t-shirt with a cartoon burger, while his mother the Queen has an entirely incongruous dress with high starched collar. What century is this meant to be?
Each of the negatives raised are, in themselves, small niggles, but taken together they constitute a hindrance to the enjoyment of the piece. This kind of physical theatre needs to be seamless to completely engage its audience. Nevertheless, there’s much to appreciate about The Faction’s take on Richard III, and I’m sure that with a bit more polishing this show could make it from good to great.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Mark Leipacher
Producer: Rachel Valentine Smith
Box Office: 02073839034
Booking Link: http://newdiorama.com/whats-on/richard-iii
Booking Until: 6 February 2016