Written by Conny Kaufmann
Jamie Lloyd’s production of Richard III, set during Britain’s 1979 “Winter of Discontent” and starring Martin Freeman, is theatre at its finest.
The Shakespeare classic, re-imagined for Season Two of Trafalgar Transformed at Trafalgar Studios in London, is a bold and energetic Cold War-style thriller, set in a dystopic Britain, in the midst of a military coup and during a time of great political upheaval between the Houses of York and Lancaster.
Martin Freeman (Sherlock, The Hobbit, Fargo) in the title role of Richard III, shows off just how brilliant and versatile he is. His performance as the scheming Duke of Gloucester is phenomenal, and he plays with the force of someone to be reckoned with.
Simultaneously funny and terrifying, he understands full well how to use the tiniest expression and gesture to the greatest effect, and he has impeccable comic timing.
Richard III, (who suffered from scoliosis in real life), walks with a limp to get sympathy when it suits him, sports a hump, and has no use of his right arm. Yet, he is a commanding presence, very agile and energetic during his fight scenes with more than one unexpected leap onto and over the conference desks that form the centre of the set. Even in scenes during which he doesn’t speak, he holds the audience’s full attention.
Richard is witty, manipulative and downright schizophrenic, and Martin Freeman knows how to wander the fine line between mild-mannered and menacing with an ever-present undercurrent of rage. So when he locks eyes with the audience and lays out his murderous plans, he creates a very chilling atmosphere indeed.
The production also benefits from a superb supporting cast. Maggie Steed as spurned Queen Margaret is an ever-present reminder of the prophecy of doom, while Gina McKee as Queen Elizabeth portrays a headstrong woman slowly and heartbreakingly falling apart and into despair due to Richard’s manipulations.
The performance on 26th July 2014 featured Alasdair Buchan, instead of Mark Meadows, as Clarence and Lord Mayor and he gave a very sympathetic performance of the betrayed royal brother.
By using 70s technology, clever integration of audio cues to transition from live action to soliloquies, microphones for public speeches and debates as well as television transmissions to round up the plot, Richard III becomes a very relatable play for younger audience members, despite Shakespeare’s original dialogue.
Standing ovations for the entire cast and crew were well and truly deserved. This is Shakespeare how it should be played, and it will definitely stay with you.
Conclusion: Funny, terrifying and brilliant. Theatre as bold, energetic and intimate as it should be!
Did you catch Richard III? What did you think of it?