Pros: Greg Hicks’ impersonation of the tyrant Richard III is so intense that he can’t even let a smile out during the final bows.
Cons: Translating a drama in modern times becomes a defective task when the use of daggers is not replaced by contemporary weapons.
One of the many wonders of William Shakespeare’s works is their ability to recall the past whilst reflecting directly onto the present. The universality of his characters and the resonance of the feelings depicted is, and will always be, very actual. Out of all his plays, Richard III is considered one of his most vibrant historical dramas. The sleazy and misogynist traits of the usurper king of England can be easily recognised in more recent historical figures and even in power-thirsty contemporary leaders, moved mainly by egoistic priorities. The Arcola’s openly political printed programme, compares Richard to the current president of the United States, Donald Trump. One of its contributors, makes a direct comparison between Richard’s display of intentions towards Lady Anne – when he says ‘I’ll have her, but I will not keep her long’ – and Trump’s comments about pussy-grabbing, as they both imply a shallow and materialistic approach to women.
After reading this interesting analogy, I was hoping for a completely modern production, with an equally open political vision. Instead, director – and Arcola’s artistic director – Mehmet Ergen chose a more understated rendition, which doesn’t exploit the full potential of Shakespeare’s historical play. The 1930s inspired costumes aren’t matched by the replacement of daggers with Twentieth century weapons, and the violence often associated with the gangsters’ era is entirely missing from the Arcola’s production.
Richard III (Greg Hicks) is a criminal that turns to his own family with blind cruelty and uses the women around him as stepping stones to obtain the throne of England. Killed in the famous battle of Bosworth Fields by Lord Richmond (Jamie de Courcey), his death puts an end to the thirty-year long Wars of the Roses. Hicks impersonates Richard’s ruthless and opportunistic deeds with astonishing charisma and a cruelty of manners that feels entirely genuine. He seems so immersed into his role that, even during the final bows, his face is still contracted in a grimace and hardly outstretches into a smile. All the male characters deliver very strong performances, which are matched in quality only by the initial confrontation between Richard and Lady Anne (Georgina Rich).
Ergen’s direction shines bright in one of the final scenes, where the night before the battle, Richard is tormented by a nightmare where all the people he killed appear in turn to wish him to ‘despair and die’. Immersed in eerie blue lighting and a haze-filled bare set, Richard’s ghostly vision sent shivers down my spine and is one of my favourite theatrical dream sequences of all time.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Mehmet Ergen
Producer: Arcola Theatre
Box Office: 020 7503 1646
Booking Link: http://www.arcolatheatre.com/event/richard-iii-2017-05-19/
Booking Until: 10 June 2017