Thursday 4 June 1992

Richard III, Bell Shakespeare, June 4, 1992

Written by William Shakespeare
By Bell Shakespeare
At The Atheneaum 1, Collins St Melbourne
Published in The Melbourne Times on June 10, 1992
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Reviewed June 4, 1992

An hour is a long time in politics ­– and if you are the deformed, unfinished, sent-before-your-time Plantagenet son, it is plenty of time to knock off most of the opposition for the crown. John Bell’s production of Richard III, with himself in the tile role, dispatches  both characters and scenes most successfully, and with summary and royal speed.

Bell has a decorative and comic production of the play. It has a lively tempo which is echoed by the prancing, obsequious and charming villain whom Bell portrays in a virtuoso performance. He is supported by a generally very strong cast. Anna Volska as the disenfranchised and prophetic Queen Margaret is magnetic and seen all too briefly. James Wardlaw as Buckingham is effete, sleek and riveting while Christopher Stollery plays Catesby as a divertingly comic ‘bovver boy’.

The production is designed impeccably in both the visual elements and the movement of the actors in space. The broad, arch comic strokes of the characters are met by the design. Bell has created a choral effect with groups of actors, and composes beautiful images with people on stage. The stony plainness of the castle walls designed by Michael Scott-Mitchell, acts as a fine contrast to the luridly coloured kitchery of the eccentric and exciting costumes by Sue Field. Shakespeare meets Dick Tracey and the Jetsons and Dr. Seuss combine with Regency design.

The first half of the performance on opening night was rich and delighted the audience. There was some flagging of the pace and consequent loss of dynamic during the battle scenes in the second half, but this seems to be inherent in the text. The choreography of the fights was problematic but may have been partly due to the confined stage space of the Atheneaum stage.

At one time only did the relentless pace seem to adversely affect the performance. Lady Ann, the subject of Richard’s amorous and politically motivated advances, seems too quickly to succumb to Richard’s unwanted attentions. I am being picky.

Bell’s Richard seems as much motivated by the petulant boredom of the rich and idle as by megalomania. He nothing better to do so why not kill off a few people and become king? It makes him a naughty, almost childlike and adorable villain, hell-bent on entertaining himself with his rise to the throne. It is a wonderfully sexy and refreshing interpretation of a pearl of a role.

 More power to him. If only he could find a horse.

By Kate Herbert