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Richard III - Royal Shakespeare Company Review

It's hard to believe the Royal Shakespeare Company began its history cycle 10 years ago with a terrific production of Richard II led by David Tennant, here the cycle makes a glorious end with a thrilling Richard III.

Gregory Doran is back in the director's seat and the production feels greater for it. Stripping back and focusing on the text and the performance rather than a flashy big set is a key decision. Here a company of fantastic actors delivers the play with assured clarity largely without any of the gimmicks that were used in the recent Henry VIs. 

Arthur Hughes as Richard III. Photo by Ellie Kurttz

The play follows on from where Henry VI: Part Three (or as it was recently titled War of the Roses) left off with Edward IV as King and his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, plotting his own way to the throne through murder and ambition.

Much has been made, and rightly so, about Arthur Hughes being the first disabled actor to take on the role at the RSC and its perfect casting. Hughes is a delight to watch throughout, as he ascends to the throne and how his own misdemeanors eventually catch up with him. Right from the famous "now is the winter of our discontent" opening speech you feel at ease watching a captivating performance. Hughes is also brilliantly comic too, and his energy and delivery of the text are riveting to watch. Undoubtedly the RSC's casting team has found a star.

Whilst Hughes may be the leading star he is matched by fantastic performances all around him. Rosie Sheehy returns to the RSC stage after a spellbinding King John pre-pandemic and impresses as Lady Anne. Kirsty Bushell is a little softly spoken as Queen Elizabeth and some of the text gets lost but she more than makes up for it in performance, especially alongside Richard and once she discovers her sons have been murdered. 

Minnie Gale must come off the stage exhausted as she unleashes her Margaret once more. She screams in the maddening pain as she grieves for her husband. Markedly her hair has gone white which proves the stress and strain she has been through.

Jamie Wilkes is a strong Buckingham. The journey from supporting Richard to the throne to their alliance being broken is believable and his demise proves Richard's ambition for power and that nobody can stand in the way. Nicholas Armfield is a likeable figure as Richmond, balancing away from Shakespeare's villainous Richard. He commands the battle sequences well and ultimately ends the War of the Roses in a moving way as he lays a wreathe on the stage. 

Rosie Sheehy as Lady Anne and Arthur Hughes as Richard III. Photo by Ellie Kurttz

The largely bare set bar a huge cenotaph at the back of the stage allows for the performances to play out without distraction. Stephen Brimson Lewis, who has been right through the history cycle, once more gets the right fit for the production in his set and his costumes. Matt Daw's lighting adds tension and texture to the production and the light combined with Leo Flint's video design is mightly impressive especially in the latter scenes as we head towards the Battle of Bosworth Field. Paul Englishby's score adds a further layer of brilliance to the sound of the production under musical director Bruce O'Neil.

The return of the on-stage camera as the two leaders rouse their troops is a little jarring. The video is out of sync with the actor and it doesn't quite land especially in terms of the time the production is set in.

Richard's ghostly nightmare the night before the battle is strikingly designed and performed as the ghostly figures return to haunt his dreams. This stems into the battle itself as the ghosts cleverly become Richard's horse which is visually stunning. The battle itself feels very quick and Richard's dispatching happens in an instant.

With Doran at the helm, Richard III feels relevant, gripping and as fascinating as it has ever been. Shakespeare's writing might be a masterpiece but Doran always offers a masterclass in delivering Shakespeare and this production is right up there with his best. Magnificent.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Richard III plays at the Royal Shakespeare Company until Saturday 8th October 2022. The production will run alongside All's Well That Ends Well which opens on Tuesday 16th August and also runs until Saturday 8th October. Tickets for both productions can be purchased at 

Minnie Gale as Margaret. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

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