All historical fact to one side, I really like Richard III. Shakespeare created the best boo-able villain in play writing history when he wrote Richard.
I’ve seen several excellent version over the years (Ian McKellan – most sinister, Robert Lindsay – best humour, Kenneth Brannagh – most human) so I was interested to find out what Rupert Goold would create with Ralph Fiennes in the title role.
I loved the way the scene was set with the archaeologists digging in the Leicester car park and members of the cast, in modern dress, coming to watch the excavations. It was a good link to all the recent publicity about Richard. The dig also made for a circular ending to the play as when Richard died (hope that wasn’t a spoiler for anyone!) he fell into the pit and the scene was reset to the archaeologists.
One of the joys of the Almeida Theatre is that it is small an intimate so the cast can use more subtle tones of vocal variety. This meant that when Richard gave his opening soliloquy it was a conversational chat with the audience rather than a big pronouncement and Queen Margaret, played by Vanessa Redgrave, was quietly mad with her grief and anger rather than raving.
In terms of the relationships within the play I thought this version played them strongly. It was clear that the House of York was a family riven by internal squabbles but who closed ranks to any outside threat. The relationship between Richard and Buckingham was brilliant portrayed as one where both parties are playing the power game and where Buckingham thinks he’s going to become the next Kingmaker, underestimating Richard’s villainy.
I felt the cast worked well together. The first time I saw Ralph Fiennes on stage was Richard II, also an Almeida production, and he dominated the stage to the point you wondered why anyone would want to get rid of such a charismatic king and replace him with the boring Bolingbroke. In this production Rupert Goold’s direction made sure there was balance and whilst Richard III is undeniably the central character the other actors held your attention as well.
The one piece of casting I think didn’t really work for me was Joanna Vanderham as Lady Anne. She come across as too assertive a woman to meekly allow Richard to woo her and kill her off. It was a bit similar when she played Desdemona for the RSC last year. I’d love to see her play Queen Margaret in a few years. I suspect that’s a part she could have some fun with!
Other things I wasn’t sure of are the big disk thing hanging over the stage. I’m not sure what it was meant to represent or it’s purpose. Queen Elizabeth didn’t look much like a “painted Queen” at the beginning and I think her clothes needed to be brighter and more “sun of York”. Finally, I know it’s historically accurate to have rain at the Battle of Bosworth but it didn’t add anything to the scene.
Overall, I really enjoyed this performance and, given that we saw it on 25/06, enjoyed the poignancy of Richard’s final speech when he tells us that England is mad!