Glass reviews Richard III at the Almeida Theatre, London

IN a part-traditional, part-contemporary gritty production, director Rupert Goold opens his Richard III in a Leicester car park, of all places, during the excavation of Richard’s supposed remains. This dramatic opening scene is accompanied by a news reporter’s clinical voice-over highlighting the relevance of the play’s themes in today’s immoral and twisted world. Complete with iPhones and reading aloud of text messages between characters (not sure how I felt about these touches), Goold’s production is fearless and well executed in the intimate setting of Islington’s Almeida.

Richard III Review. Credit Marc BrennerRichard III Review. Photograph: Marc Brenner

Goold is known for making his way with productions that harass the senses, however his Richard III feels more like gradual and poignant breaking down of characters and plot line to reveal the core themes of the play through the allure of evil and the power of language. The Almeida is an intimate, intense space so there’s no escaping the spit, sweat and cutting words exchanged on this stage, which make it all the more exciting and memorable. The set is reasonably stripped back, with Hildegard Bechtler allowing the Almeida to supply most of the atmosphere with the exception of a foreboding chainmail curtain and a mock gold “crown” circle hanging above the stage.

Richard III Review. Credit Marc BrennerAislin McGuckin as Queen Elizabeth in Richard III. Photograph: Marc Brenner

The play’s huge box office draw is without a doubt the formidable Ralph Fiennes as the Machiavellian lead. He certainly does not disappoint, with the trademark hunch and limping walk as set up by many actors before him, though he breathes new life in this much “done” character. Fiennes commands the stage with quiet intensity from the very opening scene and then grows into a fantastically evil and dominating Richard, leaving the audience hanging on his every word.  His stage presence is particularly entrancing as he manages to dehumanise his speech and his gaze with a chilling smile and a snide laugh.

Richard III Review. Credit Marc BrennerTom Canton as Earl of Richmond. Photograph: Marc Brenner

Special mention must go to a stellar ensemble cast, particularly the legendary Vanessa Redgrave whose fragile and touching Queen Margaret isn’t given nearly enough stage time, but certainly captures the audience with her frailty and grief, which is deeply affecting. I would say that the women in the production feel slightly under-represented by Goold in comparison to the men, as Aislin McGuckin’s Queen Elizabeth is viciously raped in a rather unpleasant addition to the play. Nevertheless McGuckin’s performance is feisty and convincing as she battles with the merciless Richard.

Richard III Review. Credit Marc BrennerRalph Fiennes as Richard Duke of Gloucester. Photograph: Marc Brenner

This production is controlled, sophisticated and engaging from start to finish. The intimacy of the Almeida is the perfect setting for a standout adaptation, welcoming both the audience and cast into the same sphere.

by Heather Doughty

Images courtesy AlmeidaTheatre

Richard III runs at the Almeida until August 6. There will also be a live cinema broadcast of Richard III to cinemas around the world on July 21, via Almeida Theatre Live.

Almeida Theatre, Almeida St, London N1 1TA. Box Office: 020 7359 4404

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