Thursday, September 28

Richard III – Shakespeare at Traquair

This outdoor spectacle is staged in promenade, with scenes taking place at locations around the beautiful gardens of Traquair House in the Scottish Borders. Shakespeare at Traquair has been an annual tradition since 1995, and this year, director Leah Moorhouse has chosen Richard III, the play which contains many of Shakespeare’s best insults.

For me, the highlight of the show was Rhiannon King’s badass Queen Margaret.  Her animalistic movements converge with her swaggering delivery to invoke a force of nature. I am not a believer in otherworldly powers, but if she cursed me, I would be properly scared. I also loved Faye Turpie-Laird’s performance as the aristocratically camp Catesby.  She is compelling to watch, even when she is standing still on the periphery of the stage.

As Richard, David Bon brings a nervous, staccato energy which is most effective later in the play, as the King’s paranoia really starts to take off.  He successfully draws us into the mind of this bottled spider, keeping us enthralled as his murderous game of thrones escalates. Throughout, we can see the bullied child who grew up longing for purpose.

We are led from one location to another by a troupe of musical monks, who also provide otherworldly backing music during the scenes.  The music is most effective during the promenades and the action sequences, but at one point music was played quite loudly during a speech, drowning out some of the words.  Outdoor acoustics can be unpredictable.

The show was sold out, with an audience of 100, and this did cause issues in some of the smaller spaces used.  These tighter spaces provided intimacy but for this audience size, the scenes in wider, more open areas worked best.

The costume team, led by Eula Wilkin, had quite a challenge considering that there were 42 cast members.  They used a unified colour palette, with emerald green highlights included in both costumes and make-up.  This really helps pull the visuals together as well as inviting us into the heightened world of the play.  And please, indulge me for a moment by letting me swoon over Richard’s coat in the second half of the play.  It is fabulous, and I want one.

The play opens with a modern-day prologue, featuring the younger members of the cast.  Casper Cloughey and Maria O’Hara are particularly to be commended for their entertaining, perfectly timed comic banter.

The outdoor setting, and the natural daylight, provide the perfect opportunity for performer / audience interaction, just as Shakespeare intended. I am told that the play is always performed outdoors, no matter what the weather does. There is a fair bit of walking, and I would recommend sturdy shoes, layered clothing and midge repellent. The team ensure that those with mobility needs are able to access all the performance areas, and some people had brought folding chairs for comfort but most of the audience was standing throughout.

As I drove home via winding roads, with mist creeping and darkness falling, the atmosphere of the play stayed with me for a while. I am a convert to Shakespeare at Traquair and will be going back next year. A huge and dedicated team have treated us to a fine spectacle, in unique surroundings, and deserve to be commended.

Playing until 10th June, https://www.shakespeare-at-traquair.co.uk/

Reviewer: Wendy McEwan

Reviewed: 2nd June 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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