William Shakespeare’s Richard III has been playing in cathedrals across the UK and France this summer, including Leicester Cathedral where the remains of the real King Richard III were buried only in 2015, centuries after he died. I caught Antic Disposition’s production in the final location of its run, at the impressive Temple Church in the Inner and Middle Temple, surrounded by legal chambers in London.
Despite the ancient surroundings – the church was originally built by the Knights Templar in the twelfth century – the production uses modern dress and messages are sent by text message rather than delivered by a Messenger; the central aisle between pews is raised into a walkway and used almost like a catwalk in a fashion show. There is no real set apart from a lighting rig, a couple of thrones and a few props, but the atmosphere of the location is magnificent, including the eerie shadows which fall on the pillars between scenes.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester is played by Toby Manley and it is his depiction of the machiavellian character which gives this play its major success. Limping on set with one arm held in a sling and one foot dragging limply behind him, he nonetheless flirts charmingly with us and admires himself in his own sword, yet as you watch him dispatch even his closest family and allies, even children, you can see that nothing will get in the way of his ambition to become King himself. I also really enjoyed William de Coverly in his first role as George, Duke of Clarence (sadly, also the first to be dispatched, and the first of the succession of murdered to appear in ghostly form at the far end of the runway), but due to some doubling up of roles I was pleased to see him return in his second role as the assassin Tyrell. Joe Eyre as Henry, the Duke of Buckingham is over the top in all the right ways and shows that being the King’s best mate does not always save your life.
I was less impressed with some of the other characters. I am convinced that I would have felt and shown a bit more emotion than Queen Elizabeth (Jess Nesling) does here on finding out that her two sons have been murdered, not long after her husband has died. I was also left cold by the supposedly humorous depiction of the Mayor of London (by Charles Neville) in a floppy blonde wig à la Boris Johnson.
However, directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero ensure that the action is slick and climactic. The parallels which are clearly being drawn with today’s political figures, with a megalomaniac paranoia and a foggy perspective of what is real and what is fake, bring this old story right up to date. As ever, Shakespeare is proven to be as relevant as he ever was and it is a treat to watch this production in such a magnificent historical setting.
hattydaze rating: ***/*****
I attended Richard III thanks to a press ticket. It plays at the Temple Church until 9th September 2017. For more details check the Antic Disposition website.