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Riveting and enjoyable Richard III at New Diorama Theatre – Review

Richard III at New Diorama Theatre
Richard III – Image by Cameron Slater

A slightly worrying completely bare stage greets the audience on entry to the main house, but I was almost immediately reassured when this performance of Richard III got underway for two reasons. Firstly, in my own mind I realised I had a senior moment and recalled that Shakespeare’s plays can be performed just as well with no set as with elaborate staging, with no correlation between a production’s budget and its quality. Secondly, the presence of such a large company in a studio space meant the stage was so full there was little room for props or scenery in any event.

I mention this at all because this is the sort of production that relies heavily on the script – as opposed to bits of set appearing and disappearing from all directions. Therefore, the pace is quite relentless in the absence of lengthy scene changes. One great advantage of performing such a work as this in a smaller playhouse is that it allows for far more subtlety than I for one am used to with plays of this nature.

Even when Richard, Duke of Gloucester (the extremely aptly surnamed Christopher York) does raise his voice – which, as I say, is not all the time – it’s hardly the hair-dryer treatment that one might expect from a more classical production. I loved it, though, because it allowed dialogue to be more of a conversation than a yelling competition, and thus wipes out melodrama.

This most refreshing approach to such a famous and oft-performed play, though different, is just as intense as an RSC rendering would be. It’s too radical for Shakespearean purists (but then, what isn’t?), especially with elements of ‘blind’ casting. There are some excellent sound effects, always perfectly executed (if I may use such a word given the narrative), to accompany the miming that must take place in the complete absence of props.

Some of the regal majesty is perhaps inevitably lost. More than a few of Richard’s entrances, even after he is enthroned, are rather implausibly routine. And nobody, fortunately or unfortunately, outshines the rest in a truly ensemble production.

The stilted delivery of certain lines, rather than being a mark of actor incompetence, reveals a lack of meaning and feeling behind the words that are spoken. It’s a device I’ve not come across before in classic plays like this, and is (I imagine) difficult to pull off: sounding like you’re giving a deadpan delivery but in fact deliberately allowing the audience to determine whether that particular character in that particular moment really means what they are saying.

The show is, at times, deceptively lacking in physicality: there’s not, in all fairness, going to be much, if any, frenetic movement to depict people in mourning. But physicality is a key aspect of this production, according to the show’s programme, because it supports “the muscularity of the heightened language”.

Quite precisely how the large ensemble is used to demonstrate, for instance, the ghosts of Act V Scene III, would be revealing too much, except to say that throughout the evening’s proceedings, sometimes holding a position looks more impressive than even the choreography of the battlefield.

As far as the text is concerned it is a largely faithful rendering. The Shakespeare aficionados will have fun as the play progresses noting what’s been taken out (not that much at all, from what I can tell). There’s one ever-so-slightly irritating scene where a method of communication that couldn’t possibly have been around in 1485 is used. Also, this particular Richard III is a bit too likeable, given his conduct – but I would be crying over spilled milk if I let any of that detract from what is, ultimately, a riveting and enjoyable experience.

This is a highly inventive and engrossing piece of theatre from The Faction. They have been creating shows since 2008, and my only regret here is that I hadn’t discovered them sooner. It’s certainly a distinctive and different approach to Shakespeare’s Richard III, and a very welcome one at the start of 2016, the year that is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s own death.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Richard III
A deformed soldier returns victorious from the battlefield. His physical appearance, and thirst for violence, prevent him from adjusting to peace. While the rest of the army become lovers and partygoers, Richard channels his energy into his next target: murdering his way to the crown.

An epic production performed in The Faction’s trademark physical style by a diverse ensemble of 21 performers directed by Artistic Director Mark Leipacher.

In this highly physical show, the actors use their bodies to create every element they need to tell the story from ghosts, to the Tower of London, and even a horse going into battle. The production contains many unforgettable theatrical moments.

The Richard III Company
Christopher Adams, Jeremy Ang Jones, Christopher Birks, Richard Delaney, Amelia Donkor, David Eaton, Alexander Guiney, Winnie Imara, Damian Lynch, Lachlan McCall, Andy McLeod, Carmen Munroe, Anna Maria Nabirye, Topher Naylor, Kate Sawyer, Sakuntala Ramanee, Gary Richards, Joss Wyre, Christopher York.

Director: Mark Leipacher
Producer: Rachel Valentine Smith
Lighting Designer: Chris Withers
Fight Director: Kevin McCurdy
Voice Coach: William Trotter
Associate Producer: Will Bourdillon
Company Stage Manager: Suzie Foster
Stage Manager: Roshan Conn
Dramaturgy: Gareth Jandrell

Performances
Tuesday 5th January to Saturday 6th February at 19:30
Saturday Matinees 15:00
New Diorama Theatre
15-16 Triton Street, Regents Place, London, NW1 3BF
http://newdiorama.com/

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