This production from Rose Theatre and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse Theatres in association with Swinging the Lens sees director Adjoa Andoh take the treacherous tale of Richard III and reset it in the Cotswolds of her youth, complete with Maypole and Morris Dancing, and with the emphasis in line with more modern re-interpretations of Richard as a much-maligned character who having been punched down all of his life, decides to punch back.
And Richard (Andoh) certainly punches above his weight dispatching all those with greater right to the throne including brother Clarence (Oliver Ryan), the young Prince Edward (Joshua Day) and others who oppose him including Rivers (Robin Morrissey) and Hastings (Harriett O’Grady), and whilst aided throughout by Gatesby (Harry Clarke) and Ratcliffe (Antonie Azor), he turns on those who switch to his rival, Richmond (Daniel Hawksford), such as Buckingham (Joseph Kloska) and Stanley (Sam Cox). But behind every great man there is a greater woman, as we see how the curse of Queen Margaret (Liz Kettle) plays out on those that dared to usurp her power including Elizabeth, Duchess of York (Caroline Parker), Elizabeth Woodville (Rachel Sanders) and Lady Anne (Phoebe Shepherd).
Andoh chooses to demonise Richard based on colour rather than deformity, and although this approach is somewhat at odds with Lucian Msamati’s view (he is an actor, not a black actor) that was recently echoed by Idris Elba, there is no hiding from the truth that racism sadly remains an issue in modern Britain.
Whilst the West Country setting was designed to offer a more accessible route into this contentious play, there was too much inconsistency with the accents that were on occasion over the top or disappeared completely, particularly when lines were inexplicably shouted to show emotion. There was some clever play on the underlying dark humour although this tended to veer towards slapstick which took the edge of the piece. Unsurprisingly Andoh delivered a standout performance but in doing so raised the bar high for the cast which was only met and on occasion surpassed by Kloska’s impressive Buckingham. A special mention to O’Grady who gave a composed performance as a late stand-in due to illness.
Amelia Jane Hankin’s set design with central tree and plain backdrop was simple and lent itself to the unfolding scenes with corresponding costume including colour banding from Maybelle Laye proving an effective tool to distinguish characters. I particularly enjoyed Chris Darvey’s lighting design and use of shadow, which was effective in dispatching various characters although perhaps the form of execution could alter slightly as with a lot of beheadings it became predictable.
The use of a puppet to represent the young Duke of York was an interesting idea but felt like a gimmick which detracted from the threat at the heart of the play. There was some good choreography and fight sequence from Jack Murphy and Nicole Alphonce although the now fashionable song and dance routine to close felt out of place given Andoh’s subsequent closing scene.
There was an original score inspired by traditional folk music from composer Yeofi Andoh which generally came in at the right places and complemented Benjamin Grant’s sound design although some scenes, particularly early on, felt a little flat.
This is an enjoyable production but one that perhaps tries to do too much and as a result lacks balance. For all the undoubted talent that Adjoa Andoh brings, I wonder whether adapting, directing, and playing the lead role ultimately saw her own demons take too much of a hold.
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 11th April 2023
North West End UK Rating: ★★★