Thursday, February 29

Richard III – Rose Theatre

What is the right way to do Shakespeare? Is there a right way? Is there only one way? How are his characters seen today, and what do they mean for today’s audiences? Adjoah Andoh takes a bold swing at one of Shakespeare’s most hateful villains, and strikes the audience with wit.

This staging of Richard III, coproduced by Rose Theatre and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse Theatre, toys with the idea that the non-able bodied title character is being judged by his appearance more than his actions. All the historical explanations notwithstanding, it is interesting to think about discrimination and marginalization based on physical appearance. It’s just… well… according to the text, Richard did order the murder of two children who were in his way, amongst several other people. The question one may ask is: was he led to this by being marginalized? Or was he just uncovered? Either answer has problematic implications beyond this little review.

The play includes the participation of the director Andoh doubling as the main character, and a cast of more than 10 people, amongst whom the roles of Buckingham, by Joseph Kloska, and Queen Margaret, by Liz Kettle, can be highlighted. The acting is solid, with the more physical attempts of Andoh and Kloska providing very rewarding moments, such as when Buckingham campaigns for Richard and gets him designated as ruler. That being said, the text came out a bit like an unnecessary scream at times, with the bodies providing for the most interesting parts of the play.

The music composed by Yeofi Andoh, the set design by Amelia Jane Hankin, the lighting design by Chris Davey, and the sound design by Benjamin Grant, are notably sharp, and provide for an environment bursting with life, which perfectly sets the tone to the scenes where the characters will be dealing their deadly blows. While the static majestic scenography could be expected to dull in its lack of movement, it transforms magically and provides unexpected changes in its ambience.

The story is mythical, and repeating it here wouldn’t bring anything new, but there are questions regarding theatre and acting that are set in motion in the play. The first and most compelling is: how can the audience connect with such a nefarious character as Richard? Andoh is masterful at portraying this silver-tong scoundrel, mischievous murderer, unscrupulous politician in a witty, charming, and compelling way. It is interesting in the way that we might end up thinking: “Well, he isn’t that bad after all, he’s just like the others”. Be that as it may be, it becomes fun to see him in his evil endeavors, and here is where the second question comes in: what is a villain, and what is a hero? In drama, the omnipotence of the creative mind is very powerful, and it just requires a skillful portrayal to get the audience closer to a devious character.

In terms of moments that can be highlighted, the executions with their preamble and staging are a very fun detail to see, as if watching a horror movie that has no lack of sense of humor in the midst of tragedy. The lamentations of Queen Margaret are monstrously contrasted with Richard’s demands for her daughter, and the perversion of the character is appalling in this scene. Finally, the choreographies and dances are a true party, and beautiful breaks in the tragic story.

A compelling version of a challenging tragedy, this play is a good choice for those interested in seeing what Shakespeare could be in our times.

Playing until 13th May,

Reviewer: Gonzalo Sentana

Reviewed: 27th of April 2023

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★