Review by Emily Garside (Cardiff Metropolitan University)
Richard III directed by Jamie Lloyd as part of his third ‘Trafalgar Transformed’ series, sees an updated and bloody account of the history play. Lloyd aims with his ‘Transformed’ season to ‘thrill audiences while stimulating open debate and dialogue around the issues central to each play’ For Richard III with Martin Freeman in the title role and a fast-paced and bloody direction, there also seems to be an emphasis on the director’s desire to develop a new more diverse audience.
The production moves fast, at 2 hours 30 minutes, and it feels like a pacey political drama with added violence. Substantial cuts made to the text would probably go unnoticed to those unfamiliar with the text, and the narrative flows well making this an accessible engaging version of the play. In addition to the cuts, many of the off stage deaths are brought on stage, often in graphic detail. Much has been made of the violence and sheer volume of blood in this production (those in the first three rows are warned of being in a ‘splash zone’) and while, yes there was quite a bit of blood it didn’t’ feel particularly gratuitous. Seeing some of the usual off-stage deaths also brought characterisation or motivation home, further fleshing out what we already knew or felt about some characters. The end fight-‘showdown’ actually seems more appropriate, made good use of an issue that troubles many modern-dress Shakespeare plays, how to deal with the imbalance between guns and swords. In this case effective use of guns versus the knives (rather than swords) across the play makes a profound statement of violence at its close.
The 1970s political setting works well for Lloyd’s pacey production. It also works well in some of the slower scenes, in fitting with the back and forth and posturing of political debate. The claustrophobic set – the entirety of the action set in a cabinet office – also works well with the political heat and (literal) back-stabbing of the narrative.
The cast is strong, with a reduced cast fitting the edited nature of the text – stand out performance in particular from Jo Stone-Fewings as Buckingham who delivered a conniving and dark performance. Gina McKee as Queen Elizabeth and Maggie Steed as Queen Margret also provide strong female roles in this testosterone filled play. Freeman’s Richard goes against a more common approach to bring a more cautious, calmer but no less nasty Richard to life. I fully believed his attitude, inspired by his physical deformities. In his scheming he is a carefully planned and poisonous, in that sense a true politician Richard. Personally I missed the charismatic scheming Richard I’ve come to associate with this play. It is still an accomplished performance and fully in fitting with what Jamie Lloyd is trying to achieve with this modern political production.
p.s. Cardiff Shakespeare has a new twitter account – at the same handle @CardiffShakes. Please re-follow!