Richard III

Tue 14th – Sun 19th January 2014


Elizabeth Crowdy

at 00:42 on 15th Jan 2014



Richard III is one of the more complicated Shakespeare plays to embark on, with historical knowledge needed to grasp the full effect of its speeches and characters. The adaptation at the Cambridge ADC made a valiant effort to encapsulate the intricacies of the play in a fresh, modern manner whilst still retaining its historical potency in the context of the battle between the houses of Lancaster and York.

The most obvious tweaking of the original manifested itself in the use of two actors to play the title role. This was successful in the respect that it illustrated the duality of Richard’s character, and gave an intensely physical aspect to his many moral struggles and eventual death. Robbie Aird and Hellie Cranney were a powerful duo as the corrupt king, with Aird cutting a brutal yet calculating figure, supplemented by Cranney’s more persuasive tone. The quality of acting in the cast was generally impressive, with Kesia Guillery and Rochelle Thomas also standing out as Lady Anne and Margaret. Both managed to convey the intensity of emotion that pervades the whole play alongside the slight insanity that seems inevitable in such a charged context.

However, the general impression was somewhat chaotic. Some thought had obviously gone into the staging, which was admittedly an engaging spectacle, yet there seemed to be some confusion between backstage dressing room, photographer’s studio and building site. The sheer amount of props on stage at the start seemed to serve only to distract the audience rather than create a comfortable atmosphere for the actors. I found my eyes constantly flicking to the TV screens at the front rather than focusing on the beautiful language of the play. It was a good attempt to convey the manner in which the country watches every move of the elites in society today as well as in the War of the Roses. As an audience, we were made aware of our own subconscious criticisms, and saw the characters as vulnerable in the face of this. However, the attempt at creating such an intricate and meaningful set for such an intricate play distracted my attention more than enhancing my experience of the play. The addition of extra props such as excessive amounts of flowers also seemed unnecessary.

Furthermore, the rapid changing of roles was disorientating. Seeing the exiled Margaret metamorphose into Richmond at the end of the play took a considerable amount of deciphering, although the black-clad Tristram Fane-Saunders and Mark Milligan made a successful ensemble and pulled off their rapid switches of character. This made the play an intellectual challenge, which may have been pleasant for some, however I found the experience a little too complicated to be truly enjoyed.

This play was an interesting development on traditional versions of Richard III. I immensely enjoyed the acting, and the cast seemed tightly knit throughout, supported by effective lighting and sound. However, I felt the scenery and treatment of the characters often felt erratic, creating a mixed experience in all.


Joseph Cooper

at 09:24 on 15th Jan 2014



Shakespeare is difficult. He is dated, somewhat rambling and comes with a big reputation. To find fresh ways of staging a 400-year-old masterpiece is always going to be a challenge. This time, however, it was a pleasure to see a performance with a director able to match the playwright in skill. The Cambridge European Theatre Company have constructed a performance better than many I have seen at the Globe; it is dynamic, moving, dark and macabrely comic.

The joint casting for Richard worked fantastically from the start, and made the death scene in particular extremely powerful and macabre. Madness can be challenging to portray without it lapsing into farce, but this production achieves an intense representation of maddened minds with nothing more than a twisted comedy, every inch of which is moving and concerning to behold. Indeed, the entire cast is incredibly strong, lines effortlessly spoken, and rarely falling into the dangerous over-acting that Shakespeare is often sullied by; they let the words speak for themselves, and added emotion, not mimed meanings as many other productions painfully decide to do. While praise must go to Robbie Aird and Hellie Cranney for their despicably brilliant lead, Tristram Fane-Saunders and Mark Milligan were the unnamed gems throughout, and added life to the performance.

It is the dynamism of the production which most captivated me, however, with the focus subtly passed from character to character. A white, lit-up film set was in the centre of the stage, but the whole theatre was used by the actors; the stage was both grown and condensed at the same time, often leaving the Richards at the wings or off-stage entirely. This created a huge amount of canny movement, and immersion for the audience, as well as adding a nefarious illicitness to the actions of the actors who spoke so removed from the spotlight. The staging itself was exceptional, innovative and lively. It possessed both depth and hight, leaving characters on stage in the background or climbing ladders to give monologues. Shakespeare's speeches are often long – over-long for many audiences – and the dynamic nature of this production kept them moving and maintained my engagement, without any loss of the language's beauty.

Lighting and colour were likewise used to great effect – the dream-sequence with its flashing strobe and constant babble of voices, the frequent uses of red and white, most clearly in the costume of Clarence; the perfect colours for such a play. With the absence of a curtain, lighting was used the connote scene changes – and, here, it worked wonderfully, maintaining the steady pace of the action, and not allowing the performance to slow.

The play, as it should, had me, at times, rooting for the villainous Richards, and at others being repelled by their villainy. At the cry of 'Long live the king' I wasn't sure what to think; but those words resounded strongly in my ears. The play's conclusion was staged as terribly, painfully comic, which left an interesting after-taste in the mouth. For those new to Shakespeare or with no knowledge of the play – I suggest a little bit of a plot synopsis before watching. The duality of the eponymous Richard is brilliantly conceived and executed, but also can be rather confusing – I heard many people explaining what had just happened to their company at the end and mutters of 'that's why they have two Richards' during the death scene. Accessibility aside, it is a work of artistic and dramatic brilliance.

The directing seemed truly exceptional – I take my hat off to Gareth Mattey. The performance was original, emotive, funny and disturbing all at once. The sheer cleverness of the staging and interpretation of the play was impressive to behold. Exciting, beautiful; I loved it.


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