Monday, 21 July 2014
Richard III at Trafalgar Studios
You wouldn’t necessarily think of Martin Freeman when casting the part of Richard III, but Jamie Lloyd did and it turns out to be a pretty good decision. He may not be your usual Richard, an obvious villain from the onset, but he does exude a sinister presence. Cruelty comes in many guises and sometimes the most deadly is disguised behind a veneer of supposed bonhomie. His psychotic tendencies build to a crescendo once he is crowned king and his lengthy doing away with Lady Anne using a telephone cord, shows he is capable of anything.
Yes, a telephone cord, for this adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s early plays is set in a conference room in the 1970’s, during an imagined military coup. Our actual Winter of Discontent to be exact. A clever concept, but the setting of which does present logistical problems, especially during the battle scene. For the actors continually have to negotiate Soutra Gilmour’s design of desks, swivel chairs and all the other necessary office paraphernalia. The unlawful killings, of which there are many, for the most part work in this mundane environment. Drowning the Duke of Clarence in the office fish tank, and various strangulations ending up strewn over the melamine desks work fine. It is the Battle of Bosworth Field where the set comes unstuck. There is something rather comical about men doing battle in an enclosed office space.
I also have some difficulty with Maggie Steed’s Queen Margaret. Her various curses are often accompanied by strange goings-on in the electrical department, with lights fusing and the lift developing a mind of its own. All very ingenious, but the juxtaposition between the handbag wielding senior office worker and mad old crone, whilst well acted, is very disjointed.
Martin Freeman, on the other hand, is perfectly suited to this office environment. After all he first came to our attention in a paper merchants office in Slough. However he has come a long way since then, proving himself to be an actor of some calibre. It is quite a feat to make this well known Shakespearian character something completely different. His plotting is done internally, with just a hint of what’s going on under the surface. He may be a be-suited unassuming bureaucrat, but the odd sardonic smile and flashes of unrivalled cruelty alert us to the fact that this Duke of York is capable of anything. There is humour, too, understated and sometimes visual, whilst many of his speeches are littered with long pauses for dramatic and often, comic effect.
Gina McKee, always worth watching, doesn’t disappoint here as Queen Elizabeth. She conveys a quiet dignity that doesn’t hide her grief at the death of her beloved sons.
Whilst this isn’t a great production of Richard III it is certainly a very good one and, if it attracts the younger audience that Jamie Lloyd intends, one which is very worthwhile. I only wish I could have witnessed Shakespeare tackled this way when I was a student.