Richard III

Arcola Theatre, (****)

© Alex Brenner, Greg Hicks as Richard III

© Alex Brenner, Greg Hicks as Richard III

This was a huge undertaking for somewhere like the Arcola. Big cast plays don’t often surface so it’s a coup for the ever enterprising Mehmet Ergen to not only do one of the most famous Shakespeare History plays but secure Greg Hicks in the leading role.

Hicks’ RSC Coriolanus was one of the best I’ve ever seen. So it’s a mystery as to why they never secured him for Richard III. 

But Stratford’s loss is Dalston’s gain. And apart from one or two longueurs – very difficult on limited resources to give a full flavour of the historical back-story which in the past couple of decades we’ve grown accustomed to having filled out for us by the RSC – at least the text and verse are spoken with commendable clarity.

Indeed in some cases – Paul Kemp’s Clarence’s dream speech in prison, for example – Ergen’s production finds a clarity and depth seldom achieved by glossier names.

Ergen sensibly dives away from trying to emulate RSC neo-realism although inevitably, being so rooted in the history of the Wars of the Roses, some is unavoidable.

© Alex Brenner, Greg Hicks (Richard) and Peter Guinness (Buckingham)

© Alex Brenner, Greg Hicks (Richard) and Peter Guinness (Buckingham)

I saw some of the young looking absolutely bored rigid despite the production’s fleet-of-foot dynamism and ingenuity. Hicks’s charismatic, leather clad brutal opportunist is wholly mesmerising whenever on stage and without needing to provide any replica of tone or gesture, makes one  constantly realise his parallels in terms of personality and warped logic with another over the waters in the USA.

Time and again, Shakespeare’s own words uncannily capture Trump’s disposition as Richard smiles, seduces and casts first one away then another to achieve his ends.

I loved too the modernity of Georgina Rich’s Lady Anne – again without needing to over-emphasise – and the bonhomie of Mark Jax’s Hastings. Both these rang contemporary bells whilst Ergen’s ingenious Bosworth battle scene and the ghosts appearing to Richard are carried out simply but to terrific effect.

© Alex Brenner, Sarah Powell as Queen Elizabeth, Greg Hicks Richard

© Alex Brenner, Sarah Powell as Queen Elizabeth, Greg Hicks Richard

As the former Queens Margaret, Elizabeth and Richard’s mother, the Duchess of York, coming together to finally curse Richard, Jane Bertish, Sara Powell and Annie Firbank are a convincing trio of sorrowing, horrified women abused by Richard and giving us another fascinating insight into the make-up of a psychological misfit.

Congratulations then to Mehmet Ergen, Greg Hicks and all the crew for a Richard that speaks so much of today’s political fixers and their naked ambition.

Spare a thought for the real Richard Crookback, far less the tyrant than Shakespeare’s Tudor propaganda portrait paints him. But as a study in paranoia and retribution, it remains the template off which House of Cards’ author Michael Dobbs and the rest still largely feed.

Richard III
By William Shakespeare

Richard: Greg Hicks
Clarence, his brother: Paul Kemp
King Edward, his brother: Jim Bywater
Queen Elizabeth, King Edward’s wife: Sara Powell
Rivers, her brother: Femi Elufowoju, jr
Duchess of York, Richard’s mother: Annie Firbank
Lady Anne, later Richard’s wife: Georgina Rich
Hastings: Mark Jax
Buckingham: Peter Guinness
Catesby: Matthew Sim
Brakenbury, keeper at the Tower: Jamie de Courcey
Margaret, formerly the Queen: Jane Bertish
Mayor of London: Jim Bywater
Richmond: Jamie de Courcey
Stanley, later Richmond’s supporter: Paul Kemp
Blunt, Richmond’s supporter: Femi Elufowoju, jr
Oxford, Richmond’s supporter: Georgina Rich
Executioner: Mark Jax
Young Prince: Cameron Lane, Aiden Layton
Young York: Samuel Billington-Farmer, Alex Leppard
Soldiers/Bishops/Pallbearers: Dominik Cicak
Christos Floros, Guy Hodkinson, Jonathan Keane

Direction: Mehmet Ergen
Design: Anthony Lamble
Lighting Design: David Howe
Sound Design: Dinah Mullen
Associate Costume Designer: Sarah June Mills
Assistant Director: Quentin Beroud
Assistant Director (Young People): Bec Martin-Williams
Dramaturgy: Jack Gamble, Jonathan Powell
Fight Direction: Terry King
Choreography: Lucy Cullingford
Movement Consultant: Marie Gabrielle-Rotie

Presented by Arcola Theatre 

First perf of this production of Richard III at the Arcola Theatre, London, May 11, 2017. To June 10, 2017.

Running time 2hrs 45 mins

This review published on this site, May 22, 2017