Jamie Lloyd has all the bases covered with his new production of Richard III. After an acclaimed first season at the ‘transformed’ Trafalgar Studios, theatregoers are excited and bringing another star to the stage attracts a new crowd. Taking on Richard is Martin Freeman, of Hobbit and Sherlock fame, giving an assured performance within a show full of eye-catching touches.
Lloyd would, I am sure, be proud to be called populist. This Richard III is remarkable for its clarity. Helpful gestures ensure those pesky family trees, important to claiming the disputed throne, are clear. Staged as a Cold War thriller, set among military coups in the 1970s, there’s a cinematic air that aids the plot and adds a contemporary feel.
Also, there’s plenty of action. It’s often commented that the killing in Richard III takes place off stage. Lloyd is having none of this: Richard brutally murders Anne before our eyes and the blood flows freely – if not quite enough to justify the pre-show hype around being splattered if you are in the front rows.
Angling the play as a spy story and all the gore make the show feel fresh and enable Lloyd’s interpretation. I wonder if anyone else feels they have seen too much filming and recording on stage by now? Nonetheless, a sense of paranoia is efficiently created. Seated in a war room, playing with toy soldiers, this is a modern military world familiar from recent Shakespearean productions. It’s a shame that Richard’s famous line about his horse is thrown away but, if not revelatory, Lloyd is on sound enough ground.
Freeman’s Richard is a serious fellow, as it’s the politics and the twisted practicalities of power that are emphasised. There are laughs, but quite a few are sacrificed to the speed of delivery and that bloodthirsty touch. The acting is consistent and intelligent, with touches of charisma and addresses to the audience that will please fans.
It is the thoroughness that makes you admire Lloyd. This is a strong supporting cast – especially of women. Maggie Steed gives a bold performance as an increasingly bizarre Queen Margaret, calmly sipping tea as prophecies of doom are fulfilled. Gina McKee, too talented an actress for the relatively small role of Queen Elizabeth, is outstanding – bringing home the emotional impact of Richard’s tyranny. Jo Stone-Fewings is also superb as Buckingham, Richard’s “other self”, presenting the crown as if won at a game show.
Final praise to Ben and Max Ringham for their sound and music. With a microphone frequently used to emphasise public announcements, sound indicating changes of scene and music that makes the atmosphere gripping, the Ringhams’ work is a good example of how detailed and committed this show is.
Until 27 September 2014
Photo by Marc Brenner
Written 11 July 2014 for The London Magazine