Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Richard III ****1/2

Richard III 
By William Shakespeare
Melbourne Theatre Company
Where and When: Sumner Theatre, MTC, until  June 1, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****1/2

Shakespeare’s Richard III is a designer villain, fit for a James Bond movie: a powerful, wealthy, ambitious mutant making a backroom grab for power. 

Although there is little historical evidence for this, he is depicted as a deformed hunchback with a withered arm and a dragging limp, and is described as a “bottled spider”, “a bunch-backed toad”, a boar, a dog and other insulting labels. Shakespeare’s Richard is designed to make the opposing Tudor dynasty of Elizabeth 1 feel good.

Simon Phillips’ production is passionate and compelling, surging through the years of Edward IV’s rule and Richard’s own two-year reign. We are perched on the edges of our seats waiting for the next political horror. Ewen Leslie is a charismatic, youthful, villainous and crippled Richard who charms and seduces, manipulates and murders to attain the throne. He is the quintessential Machiavellian Prince.

The world of Richard’s England is transported to a contemporary, political environment resembling modern America or any other hotbed of political intrigue. The clandestine meetings in corridors and the royal factions have echoes of The West Wing. Richard’s murders are modern executions, the invasions and rebellions are like newsflashes and the King’s proclamations are media conferences. This interpretation brings Shakespeare closer to our world. Power never changes. These battles now take place in the White House situation room or corporate boardrooms that are skilfully replicated in Shaun Gurton’s design.

Phillips edits the text to maintain a rocket-like pace and to clarify the story. He even starts the play with a scene from Shakespeare’s Henry VI to provide us with some back-story – “Previously in the War of the Roses…”

A fine cast supports Leslie’s magnetic performance and brings the poetic text to life. Alison Whyte finds sensitivity and passion in the grief-stricken Queen Elizabeth, mother of the murdered princes while Meredith Penman is moving as Lady Anne who is so cunningly seduced by Richard after he kills her husband.

Humphrey Bower gives the power-hungry Buckingham an edge of ardent playfulness and excitement and Jennifer Hagan’s vengeful, old Queen Margaret is both potent and fragile in her flimsy hospital gown.
Roger Oakley as Hastings and Nicholas Bell as Stanley are both commanding and Paul Ireland is riveting in the small roles of the murderer and Surrey.

The three hours pass rapidly and Shakespeare’s play lives and breathes in this gripping production.

By Kate Herbert

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