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Richard III (Plymouth)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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A dark and macabre Richard III provides sharp contrast to the comic chaos of Comedy Of Errors as Edward Hall’s Propeller continues its international tour.

Pivotal in this episodic skewed historical treatise is the charisma of the sadistic eponymous last Yorkist king of England whose ruthless climb to the throne is charted. Although the very competent Richard Clothier cast his vaudevillian spell, I was among the few who escaped. And that unfortunately changes the enchantment of the piece. However…

Played on Michael Pavelka’s simple set with clever use of old-fashioned medical screens and usefully-placed opaque strip plastic curtaining, the Grand Guignol-esque production abounds with ghastly and grisly modes of torture and execution – all at the whim of a progressively insane and brutal Richard.

A white-smocked and masked chorus provides a brooding presence, snatches of Down Among the Dead Men and Dies Irae, as the body bag count rises.

Extracting every ounce of the beauty of Shakespeare’s language even among the Gothic horror, Propeller proves its ability yet again although I have some misgivings about the done-to death monochrome costuming (including the dazzling white suit of Richmond) – although a great contrast to the constant splashes of crimson blood - and the possibly symbolic tailcoats worn by the female characters over their Victorian bustles.

Difficult to pick out the best from a truly superb cast but John Dougall was excellent as both the deceived George and deceiving Lord Stanley, Robert Hands convincing as the poisoned King Edward, and Sam Swainsbury and Richard Frame added a much-needed comic touch as the mockney assassins while their manipulation of Sian Willis’s young Princes puppets was fantastic.

Of particular note too were the ‘women’ who managed to avoid being men in drag – particularly Tony Bell’s regal Queen Margaret cursing all with blood and Dominic Tighe is tremendous as the astute Queen Elizabeth managing to believably portray the horror and emotion of the bereft wife and mother presented with her sons’ heads in a preserving jar.

Jon Trenchard and the company’s musical decisions drove the play with the close harmony singing and beautiful plain song haunting and quirky by turns but becoming increasingly discordant as Richard’s demise is heralded – and who will forget the rap-like Bloody, bloody England accompanied by electric guitar?


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