Cockpit Theatre 12 October – 4 November. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Shakespeare’s magnificent hatchet job on Richard III is given a full blooded and energetic airing by Front Foot Theatre. The story of Richard of York’s Machiavellian plotting to wrest the throne from his brother Edward IV, dispatching his other brother Clarence and his two young nephews along the way before being defeated by the righteous Richmond – the future Henry VII – is a labyrinth of betrayal and revenge where the audience knows exactly what is going to happen to the antihero, but enjoys the ride as he hurtles towards his comeuppance.
Director Lawrence Carmichael is a movement specialist and fight director, and boy does it show in this production, from the moment the cast clash swords in the initial battle to the final battle and Shakespeare’s brown-nosing final speech by Henry Tudor, the momentum of the piece never lets up. The only sources of a kind of stillness are the older female characters Queen Margaret (Angela Harvey) and the Duchess of York (Fiona Tong) whose powerful speeches are delivered with a prowling menace and inner fury in stunning performances. Most of the cast play multiple roles, but minor costume tweaks make it clear who is who, and Carmichaels fluid direction creates the illusion of a much larger company. Using puppets as children seems to be in fashion at the moment, but it works well here, giving the characters an otherworldly innocence that makes their uncle’s crime more heinous.
Amongst all the evil, greed and misogyny, there is also plenty of room for humour. Shakespeare’s comedy characters are always uneven, but the two murderers and the gossiping citizens are played skilfully. Even in the more serious scenes, the reactions of characters in the background are not to be missed, drawing giggles and belly laughs in equal measure. Luke MacLeod in particular has a wonderfully droll demeanour, with his Bishop of Ely bringing the house down with his bowl of strawberries.
Kim Hardy is a charismatic Richard, with subtle nods to his deformities that become more pronounced the more depraved or cornered he gets. His relationship with Buckingham (Guy Faith) is played beautifully, with both men wavering between acting like evil megalomaniacs and naughty schoolboys in their relationship.
There are no nods to modern events and politicians in this production. Instead Carmichaels has clarified the flow of the play and kept his characters rooted firmly in the past, creating a thrilling, dynamic and stylish Richard III that makes its almost 3 hour running time fly by.