RICHARD III
Friday, 18 July 2014

RICHARD III

This production of Richard III for the Twitter generation merely skims the very bloody surface

Written by Georgina Brown
georgina-brown 2805Apparently, older members of the audience of the new production of Richard III were getting the hump when young fans riotously applauded the appearance of Martin Freeman’s crookback Dick and again when he ended his famous opening speech: ‘Now is the winter of our discontent.’

To hell with theatre etiquette. I can be a bit star-struck myself (though Freeman isn’t on my list). Any youngsters prepared to disconnect themselves from their smartphones to see an actor they rate as either a hobbit or Sherlock’s sidekick attempt Shakespeare’s most Machiavellian and creepily charismatic villain gets three cheers from me.

Actually, on the opening night, the young hoping not just for a close-up of Freeman but to be splashed with ‘real’ stage blood, as promised, behaved with restraint until the end, when they leapt rapturously to their feet.

I couldn’t join them. For Jamie Lloyd’s production is very much for the Twitter generation wanting action-packed entertainment. And while it gives a clear account of Richard’s contrivances to wear the crown, not all of Lloyd’s ideas make dramatic sense. He has seized on the notion of a ‘winter of discontent’ to set the play in the 1970s, when strikes and blackouts made it a catchphrase, and locates the action in a typical 1970s-style office (desks, phones, spider plants), which is the cramped command and control centre for royals, military and their advisers. Fine for the parts of the play when speeches can be delivered as press releases or for strangling Lady Anne with a phone-cord or a lethal ducking in the fish tank (finished off by a throat-cutting which turns the water claret). Less effective for suggesting the tower in which Richard imprisons the little princes who stand between him and the throne. Or the battle scenes. Surrounded by Anglepoise lamps, there is no alternative but for the desperate Richard’s line ‘My kingdom for a horse’ to be played for laughs.

Freeman isn’t bad. Dapper, handsome, though not devilishly so as some great Richards have been, he takes everything in his limping stride. Very occasionally he allows himself a little private chuckle, but for the most part he just gets away with murder, keeping his, er, hand clean and leaving a coke-snorting Tyrrell to get elbow-deep in blood.

But he lacks that irresistible charm that explains his seduction of Lady Anne over the corpse of the husband he killed and one never feels, as with the truly great Richards, that he discovers, in the end, something terrifyingly demonic, or indeed a moral void, within himself. Both Lloyd and Freeman merely skim the play’s exceptionally bloody surface.

Until 27 September at Trafalgar Studios, London SW1: 0845-505 8500, www.trafalgar-studios.co.uk


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