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Teenage Dick at the Donmar Warehouse | Review

Daniel Monks (Richard) and Callum Adams (Eddie) - Photo-Marc-Brenner.
Daniel Monks (Richard) and Callum Adams (Eddie) – Photo-Marc-Brenner.

There’s a gag in Teenage Dick thanks to Richard Gloucester’s (Daniel Monks) hemiplegia (Google it if you must) about running. Not the same as a running gag, y’see, because, as the play’s title and lead character’s name implies, this is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III, and therefore the guy ‘runs’ for ‘senior class president’ in an election at Roseland High School, in an unspecified part of the United States. There isn’t an exact equivalent of ‘senior class president’ in the British education system – so I’ll plump for ‘head boy but with a pot of money to spend on extracurricular activities within certain parameters’, which is cumbersome but just about does the job for the narrative purposes of the play.

It’s a thoughtful piece of theatre, yet with an intrinsically American lack of subtlety. Far from being a problem, this is wholly commensurate with the setting. If you’re at all familiar with Richard III, you’ll know it doesn’t exactly have a happy ending for everyone: the Duke of Buckingham, for instance, is eventually executed. His nearest equivalent here, Barbara ‘Buck’ Buckingham (Ruth Madeley), in a wheelchair, who deals with the cheap jokes and teasing emanating from Eddie Ivy (Callum Adams) with rather more grace than Richard. Clarissa Duke (Alice Hewkin), meanwhile, is one of those people of a religious disposition that sees absolutely everything as part of a spiritual struggle between the forces of good and evil – even what she believes to be poor grades are some kind of demonic attack.

Anne Margaret (Siena Kelly), presumably an amalgamation of sorts of Shakespeare’s Lady Anne Neville and Queen Margaret, is apparently the most popular girl at Roseland High, but ends up being the most talked about person on the school roll for rather different reasons towards the end of the play. Interestingly, the class teacher is named Elizabeth York (Susan Wokoma), as opposed to Elizabeth Lancaster: this doesn’t stop the rather intellectual Richard from taking her to task whenever he sees fit.

Even the writer, Mike Lew, admits in an introductory note to the published script that, at least initially, he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of adapting Richard III: “It’s not like I could ever improve upon Shakespeare!” And there’s a mischievousness in his writing that seeps through from time to time – for instance, when Miss York sends a pupil “to the tower”, there’s a corny but nonetheless amusing explanation behind the retention of that phrase in a contemporary American setting.

A stipulation from the playwright that disabled actors play the disabled roles of Richard Gloucester and Barbara Buckingham will hearten diversity champions (and rightly so). Performed without an interval, it’s a little overlong in the sense that there is a lot to take in during a single act – I momentarily thought it perhaps could do with an interval but couldn’t decide on where it should go.

There’s even space for Anne to address the audience with her thoughts on what the play would be like if it were called, say, Teenage Anne.

The play deals deftly with a number of pertinent topics, including the role that social media plays in disseminating information (whether or not it is true) and the impact it can have on impressionable youngsters. A most unsubtle reference or two to meagre funding of the arts makes clear the playwright’s feelings on the matter. There are no half-measures in this production – absolutely everything is at full tilt, whether it’s schoolboy humour (it is, after all, set in a school), or the deep and meaningful conversations Richard and Anne have together. Daniel Monks puts in a tour de force performance, compelling and nuanced, perfect not only for the lead role in this play, but of the lead role in Richard III itself. A challenging and refreshing production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

As winter formal gives way to glorious spring fling, Richard – the class loser – lusts for power at Roseland High.

After years of torment due to his hemiplegia, Richard plots the ultimate rise in power: to become president of his senior class. But like all teenagers, and all despots, he is faced with the hardest question of all: is it better to be loved, or feared?

The cast includes Callum Adams, Alice Hewkin, Siena Kelly, Ruth Madeley, Daniel Monks and Susan Wokoma.

Director Michael Longhurst
Designer Chloe Lamford
Lighting Designer Sinéad McKenna
Sound Designers Ben and Max Ringham
Video Designer Andrzej Goulding
Choreographer Claira Vaughan
Casting Director Anna Cooper CDG

6 December 2019 – 1 February 2020
https://www.donmarwarehouse.com/

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