Review: Richard III (Shakespeare's Rose Theatre, York)

Lindsay Posner directs Shakespeare’s history play in this pop-up replica of the Elizabethan theatre

Shanaya Rafaat and Dyfan Dwyfor
Shanaya Rafaat and Dyfan Dwyfor
© Anthony Robling

Far be it from me to take any kind of swipe at the Bard's work, but ultimately I can't help but feel that in the case of Richard III, there's just too much of it. Too many speeches, too many words and so many characters. Being familiar with the text and having seen several productions, I can't help but wonder what those new to the piece, or indeed completely new to Shakespeare, would do with it?

Despite these gripes about the text, there is no discrediting the creatives and the effort and vivacity on display during this, the fourth production of four at the new Rose Theatre pop up in York. Director Lindsay Posner uses a spacious playing space astutely and the characters skilfully maintain symmetry in their positioning and movement throughout. The actors put the hard yards in too all night and are excellent.

Dyfan Dwyfor plays an engaging, conniving, cheeky, young Richard who moves about the stage at quite a lick with customary limp, cocked lower leg and hunchback. The familiar tropes are all there in his Richard but he's so watchable. Just when you start thinking a scene does start to do too much, he appears and your eyes are fixed.

Julie Legrand is a sweeping and enticing presence as Margaret, unleashing curse after curse with venom early on, and Emily Raymond plays a stoic Elizabeth. When Elizabeth and Richard go at each other midway through act two it really was irresistible, the pacing judged perfectly by both.

There are classic set-piece scenes in this play, and Richard's sly manipulating is often a satisfying feature throughout. The moment when Richard tries to play it cool regarding his accession was slightly bereft of its usual brilliance however, perhaps because it arrived at the end of a one hour forty five minute first act.

The final battle scene, which directors often over embellish, was the most concise passage of the night and effectively done. It was one of the times you wanted to see and hear more.

Posner's direction only hinted at a modern reworking. We open at a court 'disco' with "Come on Eileen" blaring from the speakers, and whilst this was a novel prologue to Richard's famous opening lines – it conveyed a kingdom in high spirits – the modern day theme came in and out. It didn't add or detract much; an odd camera here, gunfire, a Starbucks coffee cup there.

There's a lot to enjoy of the evening, but cuts to the dialogue could have made it tighter. This might be sacrilegious when talking about Shakespeare but these adept actors would have been able to tell the story with far fewer words at their disposal. This singular concept for the city is exciting and let's hope it's a successful venture.

The already converted should get along with and take lots out of this particular Richard, but with excessive fat on the bones here the experience might also be a touch impenetrable for some.