Saturday, 22 April 2017

Richard 3, Bell Shakespeare, April 21, 2017 ***1/2



THEATRE
By William Shakespeare, by Bell Shakespeare Company
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne until May 7, 2017

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 21, 2017

Stars:***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Apil 27, 2017 & later in print. KH

Kate_Mulvany_RichardIII_Bell_photo PrudenceUpton

Our world is blighted with political corruption, bloodthirsty despots and blind ambition, so Shakespeare’s manipulative and murderous Richard Plantagenet may have more in common with 21st century leaders than we would like to believe.

In Peter Evans’ production of Richard 3, the diminutive but volatile Kate Mulvany successfully crosses gender to play the notoriously brutal but physically disabled Richard 3 (AKA Richard III, Duke of Gloucester or Richard Plantagenet).

It is testament to the potency of Mulvany’s performance that most of the opening night audience leaps to its feet when the lights fade on her Richard as he lies defeated and alone on the battlefield.

On a set resembling an opulent cocktail lounge (design by Anna Cordingley), Mulvany’s Richard surrounds himself with supporters, frenemies and those who are outright hostile to his naked ambition to become king by murdering his way to the throne.

Even when not in scenes, the actors remain on stage in soft tableaux, watching the unfolding action with trepidation, pleasure or amusement, all of which emphasises the intense, dangerous and claustrophobic quality of the royal court; nobody can leave and their loyalties are constantly tested.

Mulvany’s painfully contorted, physical portrayal of Richard is compelling – in a ‘can’t look away’ way – and expresses literally Shakespeare’s characters’ grotesque descriptions of Richard as a ‘bottled spider’, ‘lump of foul deformity’ and ‘poisonous, bunch-back’d toad’.

Any wonder a man who suffers such cruel abuse and ridicule from family and peers – even from his mother – becomes a villainous, sadistic, misogynistic and resentful loner bent on a power grab.

Mulvany’s depiction of this smiling, witty and intelligent villain is credible from the very start of Richard’s famous, opening soliloquy, ‘Now is the winter of our discontent’, when she establishes Richard’s credentials as a scathing, scheming, Machiavellian leader.

Against our better judgment and despite Richard’s viciousness, Mulvany cunningly garners our grudging sympathy for Richard when we witness his increasing isolation and the abuse he endures.

Mulvany’s Richard is often funny, but her conspiratorial winks and grimaces to the audience sometimes dilute the impact of Richard’s vile machinations when significant or grim moments elicit unexpected or inappropriate laughs.

Evans’ choice to set the play in a modern but unspecified period, during which characters appear to be at a boozy party, is inventive, while his use of unaccompanied singing during scene changes is atmospheric.

Most, if not all of the script adaptations are effective, but the altered final scene, with its borrowed excerpt from Henry VI, Part 3, sees Richard, not Richmond, closing the play, and this provides the opportunity for the crowd to cheer Mulvany at the end.

A cast of nine supports Mulvany, with the women playing single characters, while most of the men play multiple roles that depict the constantly changing parade of Richard’s supporters and opponents.
Kate_Mulvany & cast RichardIII_photo_PrudenceUpto
James Evans plays the dignified kingmaker, Buckingham, Gareth Reeves is the trusting Clarence, Ivan Donato the homicidal Tyrell, James Lugton portrays snooty Rivers, and Kevin MacIsaac is both King Edward and the invading upstart, Richmond.

Meredith Penman’s Elizabeth captures the emotional torment of the widowed queen and mother of the murdered heir to the throne, while Rose Riley, as Lady Anne, is suitably timid and confused by Richard’s seduction.

Sarah Woods finds passion in the Duchess of York’s disdainful and harsh attack on her son, Richard, while Sandy Gore delivers Queen Margaret’s venomous curses with cold restraint, although her style is too mannered to be threatening.

Mulvany inhabits the role of Richard with relish and this production, although not entirely successful, is certainly an interesting re-imagining of Shakespeare’s vile usurper, Richard 3.

By Kate Herbert

Cast:
Gareth Reeves,Ivan Donato,Rose Riley,James Lugton,Meredith Penman,James Evans,Sandy Gore, Kevin MacIsaac & Sarah Woods

Director Peter Evans
Designer Anna Cordingley
Lighting Designer Benjamin Cisterne
Composer Steve Toulmin
Sound Designer Michael Toisuta
Movement & Fight Director Nigel Poulton
Dramaturg Kate Mulvany
Voice Coach Jess Chambers

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