It’s Shakespeare’s fault, of course: that the enduring image we have of Richard III is of the twisted, hunchbacked, withered-armed, plotting and scheming monster who murdered his way to the throne. And no amount of academic research or Richard III Societies can totally obliterate the memory of great performers, from Laurence Olivier to Kevin Spacey, who turned him into a villain of such charisma, wit and sexiness.
Good King Richard, performing at the White Bear Theatre by the Golden Age Theatre Company, sets out to redress the balance. The writer/director, Ian Dixon-Potter, does an honourable and conscientious – and scholarly – job of it. It was not Richard who conspired to have his brother George Duke of Clarence drowned in a barrel of malmsey, it was the Woodvilles, led by Elizabeth, wife to Richard’s other brother King Edward IV. It was not Richard who killed the Princes in the Tower (that remains a mystery). Richard, according to the play, had neither a hunchback nor a withered arm or twisted leg, he was a perfectly upright – both physically and morally – man who did a lot of good for his country, fielding all the conspiracies against him, from the Woodvilles to Lords Hastings and Buckingham, and doing his best to introduce reforms favouring the poor against the rich, thereby turning many of the rich against him. He married for love not spite, and was appalled at the suggestion from his sister in law Elizabeth Woodville that, his wife Ann being dead, he marry her niece (also Elizabeth).
The problem with the play is that what we gain in factual knowledge we lose in dramatic impact. There is a lot of information here, people talk plot to one another all the time, making huge demands on the both the audience’s concentration and the actors’ memories.
And in case we miss something we get a running commentary from a couple of soldiers, acting as a kind of chorus, keeping us up to speed with what ‘Ted’ and ‘Dick’ are up to.
Considering the complexities of the plot, with conspiracies jumping out of the woodwork here there and everywhere – compounded by half the male characters being called Edward and half the female Elizabeth – it says a lot for the writer that he manages to retain any clarity at all.
The actors do their best to breathe life into these plot-spouting people, the women especially: Catherine Dunne as a Machiavellian and Lady Macbethian Elizabeth Woodville, and Zara Banks as a similarly motivated Margaret Beaufort, who urges on her son Henry Tudor (Will Mytum) to claim his right to the throne while stroking his thigh in a disconcertingly unmaternal manner. But nothing can really stop the performance from being more of a history lecture than a piece of drama. Richard himself, played in deadpan fashion by Nicholas Koy Santillo, comes across as a bit of a prude, lacking any kind of charisma or humour. (Doesn’t the devil have all the best tunes?) It’s hard not to long for the likes of Antony Sher to burst onto the stage and inject a bit of energy and humour and virility.
Of course it’s unfair, if inevitable, to make comparisons with Shakespeare’s version. The whole point of the play is to counter ‘the elaborate fiction’ cooked up by the Tudors, and taken up by Shakespeare, in order to justify Henry’s slightly dubious seizing of the throne on Richard’s death at the Battle of Bosworth. Anyone paying full attention to proceedings throughout the 90 minutes will learn a lot about England’s most notorious monarch; even if he was, in truth, nothing like as notorious or exciting as we have been led to believe.
Review by Patsy Trench
Golden Age Theatre Company presents
GOOD KING RICHARD
by Ian Dixon-Potter
History is always written by the victor. After Henry Tudor defeated Richard III at the battle of Bosworth, Tudor Historians created the elaborate fiction of a deformed usurper who schemed and murdered his way onto the English throne. But who was the real Richard III?
Drawing on contemporary sources unsullied by Tudor propaganda, Good King Richard dramatises for the very first time the true events which propelled Richard onto the throne of England and led to his downfall. This is a tale of murder, betrayal, rebellion, revenge and political intrigue. A century after Richard’s death a celebrated play was written based on the testimony of his greatest enemy, Cardinal John Morton. Over four centuries later, Good King Richard finally sets the record straight.
Richard III Nicholas Koy Santillo
Edward IV Peter Collington
Elizabeth Woodville Catherine Dunne
Lord Hastings John McLear
The Duke of Buckingham Ben Harper
Bishop Morton Albert Clack
Margaret Beaufort Zara Banks
Henry Tudor Will Mytum
8 – 20 December 2015
Tuesday –Saturday 7.30pm
Sunday @ 4pm
WHITE BEAR THEATRE
138 Kennington Park Road
London SE11 4DJ