Richard III is one of only two Shakespearean history plays to be designated a tragedy. Propeller’s production never aspires to that, but on its own terms Edward Hall’s intelligent expressionist staging has huge impact. Cynical and coolly cruel, it features excellent verse speaking and superbly effective lighting (Ben Ormerod), sound (David Gregory) and music (Jon Trenchard).
As in the company’s Comedy of Errors, actors not involved in character revert to anonymous figures in a crowd, but this time the often silent masked and white-coated figures create the menace of the scientific experimenters, the laboratory killers. In truth the obsession with blood and the assorted instruments of dismemberment and disembowelling becomes a touch unnecessary, but the crowd fits well with Michael Pavelka’s metallic set with its ingenious use of mobile screens, as well as supplying some glorious a cappella singing. The music draws on many sources, from medieval carol to The Student Prince, to great effect, a very jolly “Now is the Month of Maying” an unforgettable accompaniment to grisly murder.
This Richard III is funnier than most – I think, justifiably. Tableaux and the juxtaposition of scenes point up the irony and Richard Clothier in the title role enjoys the excess of role play and the concept of murder as an industrial process. His interpretation is somewhat problematic, but his mild-mannered maniac is persuasive and often compelling, even if he lacks the dramatic power to dominate the later stages. Chris Myles’ Buckingham is surprisingly bourgeois, but John Dougall (Clarence) and Jon Trenchard (Lady Anne) seize their single-scene moments splendidly. It’s worth noting that in an all-male production all four female parts are played with great seriousness and conviction, Tony Bell doubling an intense Queen Margaret with a composite London citizenry character who even contributes his own entertaining rap. And the casting of the young princes as puppets is oddly moving!