The King’s Name is a Tower of Strength

What: Richard III by William Shakespeare

Where: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

When: Late June to early July 2022

Who: The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)

This is a very good RSC production. It fades a little in the final third but on the whole, it has much to offer. And frankly, if you look through my recent reviews of the Stratford-Upon-Avon-based theatre, it hasn’t been too often I have been able to say that in the last 5 years.

Of course, the shutdown because of the pandemic has affected the percentages, but some productions have been a real struggle.

The recent Much Ado Nothing had some good sections. Measure for Measure and the Comedy of Errors were absolutely excellent, and far, far beyond my expectations. But, most often the RSC seems to have been embroiled in experimentation, tricky notions and slightly bizarre shapes for their own shape.

And then we come to Richard III. The last time I reviewed a production of Richard III was pretty much 10 years ago and featured Jonjo O’Neill in the title role

Re-reading my review I rated it quite highly, but I don’t think of it as well as this current production. The highlights here are the acting of Arthur Hughes (Richard III, formerly Duke of Gloucester) and Kirsty Bushell (Queen Elizabeth). They are very good. Hughes is twisted (emotionally, spiritually) and Ms Bushell is sincere, genuine – they make quite a contrast. At times her body language doesn’t seem to quite know where to go, and requiring her to kiss Richard when he asks for the hand of her daughter seems unnaturally perverse, given her objections to the union.

Arthur Hughes
Kirsty Bushell, Ashley D. Gayle, Arthur Hughes

This production does, however, make a heavy attempt to saddle itself with some political baggage. Mr Hughes, we are told, is the first disabled actor to play the part of Richard III. My memory doesn’t cover all f that period. Director, Gregory Doran has said he would no longer cast a non-disabled actor in this role. Some years ago, his husband, Anthony Sher played the role at the RSC. In an essay in the programme by Andrew Miller, Sher is described as temporarily disabled when he took on the role. This word play is not very convincing. Arthur Hughes is a great Richard III on many levels, but his disability is very different from the terminology that Shakespeare used to describe is lead character, anti-hero/villiain.

His appearance was as a:

poisonous, bunch-backed toad

This appearance in Sher’s acting was achieved by giving him crutches and the legs of a spider.

I don’t fully understand the rights and wrongs of this and I don’t fully understand the argument, or who Mr Miller feels his opponents are, other than he opposes the history of the theatre. But, I’m not sure that simply dividing the community of actors into two sections – the disabled and the non-disabled – is the answer, especially since those of us in London were surrounded during the pandemic with warnings that not all disabilities are visible.

Mmm…

Weaknesses in the play? The child actors seemed over burdened with their roles, but I’m not sure how else you work with these characters. The scenes where Richmond and Richard’s pre-battle speeches are filmed and projected by video camera were utterly out of step with everything else here.

Most importantly the final scenes where those who Richard has killed during his life appear in ghostly form were rather over-cooked and making the horse he is to be bucked from out of their white-sheeted bodies simply didn’t work. Certainly I felt that Richard ended the play needing a horse, but not really sure he’d ever one.

It is a good one. Catch it while you can – between now and October.

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