Shakespeare’s fictional reinvention of the last Plantagenet King of England has always been a topic of hot discussion in both theatre and history. Antic Disposition’s touring production of Richard III comes to London’s Temple Church following a summer tour of English cathedrals and western France. This production created quite a buzz after it played at Leicester Cathedral within spitting distance of the bones of the infamous King.
The simplistic set was reserved and chic, making good use of simple traverse staging and a red carpet stretching the length of the stage. With only a set of thrones at one end and a coffin at the other, the play begins with the sickly King Edward IV and his dynasty walking the length of the stage with their security guards as though at a film premiere, waving at the eager paparazzi and adoring fans.
Eerily reminiscent of modern political figures this conjured up images of Mr Trump and the crass social media dominated age in which we now live. We meet our anti-hero as Richard of Gloucester (Toby Manley) steps forward, his withered arm strapped to his chest, dragging his left foot clumsily behind him. As events unfold we are told by Richard himself that he is “…determined to prove a villain…”, with a fiery ambition burning to overtake the crown and anything or anyone that stands in his way. In this modernised version the Duke of Buckingham (Joe Eyre) is a spin doctor and master publicity expert, pulling the strings and baiting the traps for the greedy Richard to utilise.
Toby Manley makes a rather frail and pathetic Richard with a terrifying glimmer behind his large, puppy like eyes. This Richard is much less knowing and ambitious, and instead seems to enjoy the death and destruction he causes rather than the outcomes they serve.
Although this is a dramatic play, there was a little too much “crying acting” going on, with ‘Queen Elizabeth’ squeezing out tears for a solid three scenes. Tears should come naturally from the emotion and it feels somewhat unnatural to watch an actor try desperately to invoke emotions in this farcical ‘soap opera’ style.
There were many moments that felt over the top in the play. Whether this is down to Ben Horslen and John Risebero’s direction or the fact that you are so close you can smell the actors I do not know. However the setting of the Temple Church has incredible acoustics and truly worked alongside this striking and daring production, meaning there could have been much more subtlety injected into the piece with no real loss of drama.
This retelling of one of the Bards most fascinating works is truly a dramatic experience, with a somewhat blasphemous feeling that leaves you want to light a candle go to confession. An audacious and bold production in a truly wondrous setting that feels as relevant and important as it is darkly humorous.
Reviewed by Jimmy Richards
Photo: Scott Rylander