Pros: Modern music, on-stage acrobatics and versatile actors kept us entertained.
Cons: Too many gory fight scenes suffocate the beautiful subtlety of the original text.
Writing a Shakespeare review is always difficult. For starters the text is off-limits. It would be ill mannered (or at least so custom dictates) to find fault with a play whose lines have become so legendary: “now is the winter of our discontent” / “my kingdom for a horse”. So, one is left to review the director’s interpretation of Shakespeare rather than the words of the play itself.
Luckily with this adaptation of Richard III there is much interpretation to review. Set in a dystopian wasteland complete with disco beats and futuristic costumes the play infuses the original with a good deal of gore and violence. That there was ever a lack of gore in Richard III – a play in which a whole royal clan is butchered – may seem odd, but Shakespeare decided to keep all the murders bar one off-stage. Director Zoe Ford chose to do otherwise. This adaptation is full of stabbings, beatings and slayings. Credit must go Josh Jefferies, who plays the virtuous Richmond, and David McLaughlin as the villainous Richard, for their compelling fight scenes. Their acrobatics and nimble stage manoeuvres make the fight scenes both entertaining and believable.
McLaughlin gives a decent turn as Richard. His cajoling wit is seductive, and his many asides and soliloquies do much to enamour the audience to his wretched plans. It is only after a parade of grim and sinful acts that his charm wanes. Gemma Barrett’s Queen Elizabeth is also very impressive. She plays a character whose husband, sons and brother are murdered, with great emotional vigour. She is able to show the grief of woman ruthlessly stripped of her children without resorting to melodramatic wails.
But for all the solid acting and bloody fight scenes, and futuristic setting, at its heart this is an unadventurous adaptation. It starts with an on-stage murder and ends with an on-stage murder. And in between there are plenty more grisly killings – all for the audience’s macabre pleasure. I found the violence, dystopian setting and dim lighting all a bit oppressive. Shakespeare’s subtle comedy – of which there is much, especially from the dry humoured Richard – is suffocated by the succession of killings and fights.
This adaptation is not without innovative moments. In one scene the decadent court of Edward IV is illuminated by strobe lighting and a disco beat. The Studio 54 style hedonism sits uneasily with the otherwise doomed setting of the court, and it creates a wonderfully charged atmosphere that is dark, sombre and hedonistic all at once. Unfortunately, such forward-thinking direction is rare, instead the audience is treated to series of violent fights and brawls, which is great for fans of action and gore, but not conducive for subtly and insight.
Director: Zoe Ford
Producer: Hiraeth Artistic Priductions
Box Office: 020 8340 3488
Booking Link: https://kiosk.iristickets.co.uk/k?uatg&9403tickets
Booking Until: 1st March.