Martin Freeman provokes mixed reactions as Richard III
Jamie Lloyd's 70s-set production at Trafalgar Studios opened last night
…Jamie Lloyd's cuts are not too brutal, although the pace is a bit too frenetic at times… Martin Freeman… doesn't make a bad fist of it: he captures the humour well but what's missing is the ruthless militarism… But there are some nice little touches… I'm not sure the concept fully works… It's a strange production indeed where Buckingham is more menacing than Richard, but Jo Stone-Fewings is more than a henchman… There's an excellent, shifty Hastings too from Forbes Masson, while Gina McKee captures well the anguish of a queen grieving… For all of Freeman's tics and grimaces, there's no real explanation of why he's so intent on seizing power and why he's so grimly determined to hang on to it.
…the production doesn't make total sense… Having coming up with a confining concept, Lloyd pursues it with undeniable ingenuity… It's all very clever, but I kept waiting to see how Lloyd would solve the problems that he himself had created. It's fair to say that Freeman's Richard is perfectly suited to the concept… although Freeman chops up the verse into neat little segments rather than giving us the architecture of a speech, he has the capacity to make each phrase tell… Within its own terms, it's a highly accomplished performance based on the idea of contained power… Gina McKee lends the queen a defiant dignity. There is also good support from Jo Stone-Fewings… and from Maggie Steed… this is an inventive production that may well, thanks to Freeman, introduce a new audience to Shakespeare…
…This is director's theatre at its self-advertising worst, while Freeman gives a disappointingly underpowered performance as Richard, normally one of the most thrilling roles in Shakespeare… As the evil Richard, Freeman seems frankly miscast… Freeman seems like a boy sent to do a man's work. There is a gaping hole where the charisma ought to be... Just as disappointingly, Freeman largely fails to capture the blackly comic humour of the character. There are moments when one glimpses what might have been… But for the most part this is a performance that suggests the banality of evil, and creepy thrills are in desperately short supply. There are a couple of striking scenes in the production… there are strong performances from Jo Stone-Fewings… Gina McKee… and Maggie Steed…
…Freeman gives a highly intelligent, calculatedly understated performance, full of witty mocking touches in his rapid line-readings… and creating a rapport of shared superiority with the audience over his dupes. But the character's malign, self-delighting magnetism and the sheer diabolic effrontery… don't make themselves felt… Freeman doesn't radiate a sufficiently dangerous sense of unpredictability… Dominated by two long narrow desks, this set not only limits the actors' freedom of manoeuvre but creates a rather cumbersome and incongruous all-purpose milieu… The vivid company perform with great verve and there are some horribly eloquent strokes… If the production doesn't, for imaginative coherence, achieve the standard set by Lloyd's Macbeth, I hope it won't be long before Freeman broaches the Bard for a second time.
Now here's a Shakespearean debut to applaud: Martin Freeman limps, lies, smiles, stabs and strangles his way to the crown in this excessive but invigorating Richard III… Freeman snares the attention from the off… Jo Stone-Fewings's charismatic Buckingham… He races over some of his lines, but that is a policy decision. He is quietly electrifying… Let's not pretend that this is fully coherent. But let's not deny that it is ingenious, exciting and alive… Gina McKee is particularly good as a grieving Geordie Queen Elizabeth, but the cast of 20 sell all the production's conceits with relishable clarity. After the show ends with a party political broadcast from Richard's rival, Richmond, you may well find yourself cheering, not just Freeman's star turn but the whole cherishably overblown evening.