Richard III – Bridewell Theatre | Review

A bold attempt to reimagine Richard III as Boris Johnson doesn’t quite work, but nevertheless is worth seeing. Director Dan Edge is surely right to see King Richard as a forerunner of today’s narcissistic ego-manic leaders, not just Johnson but Trump, Modi, Orban and many others. That’s because human nature doesn’t change. So the themes Shakespeare identified in the 1590s still holds true for us in 2024, by which I mean the struggle for power and the lengths to which ambitious people will go to achieve it. Richard III is a wonderfully rich play about politics and power. Richard is both immoral but also witty and ironic with a dry sense of humour. It’s this that we find fascinating about him and also why Dan Edge sees him as precursor of Johnson. This version of the Tudor power struggle is transferred to the Westminster power struggle between 2016 and 2022. It works and it doesn’t.

Richard III at Bridewell Theatre. Photo credit: David Ovenden
Richard III at Bridewell Theatre. Photo credit: David Ovenden

What works? The presentism – seeing the past through contemporary concerns – is well done. Kings become Prime Ministers, executions become sackings, robes become suits, royal letters become text messages, and so on. The most innovative of these modern equivalents for the Tudor Court is the rolling 24-hour news screens which continually bring us the latest news in Richard’s tumultuous rise and fall. This news media take on Richard is most insightfully achieved in the Battle of Bosworth scenes. Here Richard is reduced to an isolated paranoid wreck furiously channel-hopping. The remote replacing his sceptre. This a thrilling scene that works very well. The analogy between Richard being abandoned by the nobles on the field of battle and Boris being abandoned by his ministers is clear. The media scrum is the modern equivalent of a battle. Nice touch.

What doesn’t work? The screens presenting the breaking news also broke my attention to the verse speaking. It’s impossible to follow dialogue and read text simultaneously. Once I started reading the text I lost the flow of the dialogue. It’s impossible to do both. I found this really annoying and frustrating. It spoilt my enjoyment of the play. So what was conceived with the best of intentions of bringing Richard alive to a contemporary audience had the opposite result. The best-laid plans of mice and men…

The modern costumes presented another unintended confusion. In a period costume version, we see characters in all their finery and this helps us to understand who’s who. Not so when everyone is in a grey suit. I found it hard to grasp who was who. Added to these challenges were some unfortunate stage decisions. Dry ice machines are a nuisance. They create a murky atmosphere and send audience members into coughing fits. Please stop using them. Secondly, many scenes were located at the far end of the stage furthest away from the audience. Why? I found it hard to hear the dialogue, and some of the dialogue was projected towards the back wall. Why?

When all’s said and done, the dialogue in Richard III is magnificent. In a sense, the play is indestructible, no matter what a director does to it. Asked how he should deal with a rival, Richard replies “Chop off his head.” The play is full of such priceless gems. But of course, they must be spoken with clarity and confidence. Too often lines are rushed. Some of the cast could learn from Audrey Lindsey. She was calm, clear and confident throughout in her portrayal of Buckingham. Likewise, Karina Zakharyan had real stage presence and delivered their lines with calm authority.

Sam Sugarman, playing Richard, had a difficult task delivering hundreds of lines with little recovery time. He did well capturing the cynical immoral side of Richard but was less successful in evoking the witty and attractive sides of his character. Having said all this, the Stock Exchange Dramatic and Operatic Society are to be commended for a spirited contemporary version of one of our most thrilling political plays.

3 Star Review

Review by John O’Brien

This retelling of one of Shakespeare’s most popular history plays does away with duels, grandly dressed nobles and pitched battles, taking us instead to the current seat of power in the United Kingdom: Westminster.

The green benches and corridors buzz with betrayal, deception and plots as our protagonist tries to clear the obstacles blocking his route to the ultimate prize – and then to cling desperately to his position.

Combining a modern political setting with innovative technical elements and Shakespeare’s timeless prose, this fresh production will tell the old story of Richard III in a new way, connecting with those seeing the show for the first time and delighting abiding fans.

Richard III includes themes of death, murder and drug use.

CAST

RICHARD | Sam Sugarman (he/him)
BUCKINGHAM | Audrey Lindsay (she/her)
ANNE | Antonia Kasoulidou (she/her)
CATESBY | Karina Zakharyan (they/them)
CLARENCE | Elliot Archer (he/him)
DERBY | Paul Caira
DUCHESS OF YORK | Mary Wright (she/her)
ELIZABETH | Sarah Fowkes (she/her)
HASTINGS | Dave Wainwright (he/him)
RICHMOND | Ingrid Miller
RIVERS | Carole Stewart (she/her)
THE KING | Elizabeth Elstub (she/her)

ALL OTHER PARTS PLAYED BY:

Carl Reyes (he/him)
Charlie O’Reardon (he/him)
Em Oliver (they/them)
Isobel Lawson (she/her)
James McKendrick (he/him)
Jess Hearn (she/her)
Liam Wells (he/him)
Livvy Perrett (she/them)

CREATIVE TEAM

DIRECTOR | Dan Edge (he/him)
PRODUCER | Clare Harding (she/her)
CREATIVE TECHNICAL DIRECTOR | Adrian Jeakins (he/him)
LIGHTING DESIGNER | Will Lake (he/him)
VIDEOGRAPHER | Jim Onyemenam (he/him)
CAMERA OPERATOR | Mike Brown (he/him)
STAGE MANAGER | Tamsin Ker (she/her)
ASSOCIATE VIDEO DESIGNER | Chris Love (he/him)
ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER | Mayur Pant (he/him)
SET CONSTRUCTION | Andrew Laidlaw (he/him)
MARKETING | Pippa Kyle (she/her)
PROGRAMME | Em Oliver (they/them)
PHOTOGRAPHER | David Ovenden (he/him)
COMMITTEE LIAISONS | Olly Levett (he/him) and Henry Whittaker (he/him)

Richard III plays at the Bridewell Theatre from 9 to 18 May 2024.

Related News & Reviews Past & Present

  1. Review of Richard III – Upstairs at the Gatehouse
  2. Review of Drag King Richard III at Riverside Studios
  3. Review of Richard III at the Cockpit Theatre
  4. Riveting and enjoyable Richard III at New Diorama Theatre – Review
  5. Richard III at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

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