What: Richard III by William Shakespeare
Where: The Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon
When: 7th June 2012
I’ve been a fierce critic of some of the recent productions of the Royal Shakespeare Company and I have to admit I wasn’t particularly looking forward to seeing their current “Richard III”. The ensemble is basically the same as the one which gave such an unusual take on “King John” which I recently reviewed in such a negative light. So, I settled back in my seat drew a deep breath and expected the worse…… And I was more than pleasantly surprised.
The heart of this extremely well thought out production is the performance of Jonjo O’Neill as the Duke of Gloucester who has great ambitions to be King and indeed does become King Richard. His is not the tortured, hideously deformed Richard that others have seen in the part. He walks with a limp and a halt and his fingers are bent inward but he has a certain physical handsomeness despite this which Mr O’Neill skilfully buries under a reptilic personality. He is believably evil – more than a monster but less than a man should be.
He manages to maintain this persona with humour but never slips into pantomime villain role. He is conscious that he is the villain and we know that he is the villain and it would be so easy to cross that line. The way which the delivery of his lines is thought through and shot through with real machination and intention makes the lead actor of this particular production a director’s dream and Roxana Silbert is wise to allow the weight of the nature of the play to rest on his ever-so-slightly crooked shoulders.
If there are weaknesses in this production they are found in the portrayals of characters by the actors who came up so short in King John. Pippa Nixon as Lady Anne brings nothing to the part. Paola Dionisotti has more life as Margaret than she brought to the role of Pandulph but the extra movement and fact that she is evidently more comfortable in the role, cannot save her from this critic’s feeling that Margaret’s odd declaration of curse is seldom believable. David Fielder as the Earl of Derby brings to the part the same thick Yorkshire accent as he threw forth as Salisbury. I don’t know if it his is own but this writer comes from Barnsley but wouldn’t need to bring his hometown to every role.
Conversely those who were sometimes strengths in King John are left to much smaller roles. Susie Trayling who in my opinion was the strongest part of “King John” has a non-speaking role here as Mistress Shore whilst Alex Waldmann manages to put that hideous dance to Frankie Valli behind him as he gives us a believable Sir Catesby.
But somehow the ensemble’s flaws fade mostly into insignificance in this buoyant, energetic and thoroughly convincing performance. It is not that Mr O’Neill carries the play. Perhaps he causes the majority of the others to raise their game – I don’t know – but this is by far the most enjoyable evening I have spent in Stratford-Upon-Avon in many a moon.
So if you are tempted to journey along to the Swan Theatre in that neighbourhood, you will find on this evidence that there are far more tickets available for John than Richard and that the same ensemble is performing both. Don’t let that sway you – choose Richard and a good night at the theatre will surely follow.