The newly conceived production of Richard III at the Barons Court Theatre, reinterpreted through the lens of the East London gang rivalries during the 1960s, is an enterprising (if not fully formed) conception. While the seediness of East London does indeed provide the premise and setting for the play, the dynamic of this postulation is not wholly explored once it gets underway. The text is left largely untouched, apart from appropriating some (not all, which leads to some of the confusion) locations to London and an added East London expletive here and there.
One aspect of the play that is impressively conceived is the splitting of the title role into two parts, and the presupposed allegory of their identities as the Kray twins provides an entertaining twist. While they are not addressed by name as the infamous gangsters, in keeping with the production’s choice to retain the original cast of characters, the roles are portrayed very much with this in mind, accents and all. Samuel Parkinson, who enacts the sinister, more menacing aspect of Richard’s character (ostensibly an incarnation of the notoriously darker brother, Ronnie Kray), is the show’s standout performer.
The separation of the characters means his role is comprised predominantly of Richard’s inner narrative with the audience, and thus intrinsically contains the majority of the play’s best lines. With neither of the two actually affecting Richard’s deformity, Parkinson’s skilfully perverse bodily contortions, embodying all of Richard’s depravity, become a suitable metaphor for his ‘deformation’ as it were.
His co-star Duncan Mitchell, the second inhabitant of Richard, gives a solid performance, if occasionally slightly monotone. Mitchell is impressive in his handling of the play’s confrontational scenes, but from time to time relies on it too heavily, and is less convincing in the character’s more subtle moments. This is partly a product of the decision to split the characters; in a paradoxical way, it results in Mitchell’s character having less emotional depth to it than in a typical production.
Elsewhere, Beatrice Lawrence produces an accomplished performance as Queen Elizabeth and is the most assured in grappling the prose, while Harry Omosele is promising in his renditions of first Clarence, then the conniving Buckingham. Director Matthew Turbett uses his limited space efficiently, and the fight scene at the culmination of the piece, adapted to a street style boxing match between the two warring parties, is curated with aplomb. Whilst the production is somewhat ambiguous, especially in its execution of its premise, as a whole it should be commended for its ambition and endeavour.
Review by Wilf Dutton
After months of gang violence, an uneasy and tenuous peace returns to the East End. With Edward on his deathbed, who will claim the inheritance of The Firm? His younger twin brothers may have their eyes set on leadership, but they are not alone: they will have to do everything they can to secure their rule against the threat of Edward’s daughter. Meanwhile, more gangs assemble south of the Thames in preparation for a bloody takeover to oust the Krays from their throne, one which will shake the criminal underworld of London to its core.
The eponymous role of Richard III has been reinvented as two characters in this production to echo the most infamous gang leaders in 1960s London.
Richard III – Duncan Mitchell (Guildford School of Acting), Samuel Parkinson (Drama Centre London)
Queen Elizabeth – Beatrice Lawrence (Central School of Speech and Drama)
Duchess of York – Debbie Bird (ALRA)
Clarence/Buckingham – Harry Omosele
Princess/Lady Anne/Secretary – Bibi Lucille Salmons
Rivers/Catesby – Brian Adam Merry
Hastings/King Edward/Murderer/Mayor/Tyrell – Cyril Blake
Director – Matthew Turbett
Assistant Director – Roselle Olivia Hirst
Executive Producer – Patrick Wilson
Producer (Marketing) – Daniella Harrison
Production Manager – Kevin Forde
Marketing Design – James Cassir
Composer – David Denyer
Supported by StraightUp Productions
Start time: 7:30pm
Tickets: £16 (£12 concession)
Reservation: www.pentirestreet.hanoveris.com (pay in cash on the door)
Location: Curtains Up Pub, 28a Comeragh Rd, W14 9HR