Review – Richard III

Nov 24 2012 | By More

★★☆☆☆   Macabre

St Brides Centre: Wed 21 – Sat 24 Nov 2012
Review by Thom Dibdin

Vile and unrepentant, Richard Godden’s take on Richard III is an uncompromising one in this fascinating production from the Grads – at St Brides until Saturday.

Shakespeare’s tragic history play – set at the end of the Wars of the Roses – is given a minimal staging by director David Grimes, and played out in Edwardian dress.

Richard III (Richard Godden), Bishop of Ely (Jon Davey) and Lady Anne (Cari Silver) in the Grads 2012 production of Richard III at St Bride’s. Pic: Howard Elwyn-Jones.

Performed in the round with only a few chairs and a table or two in terms of stage furniture, there is nothing by way of set.

Instead, Grimes opts to bring death onto the stage, and people it with a slew of corpses.

Many are the victims of Richard of Gloucester’s rise to power, as he manipulates and murders his family and loyal followers on his way to becoming King Richard III. But in Shakespeare’s scrip all the killing occurs off stage – save for the final death of the tyrant himself.

Grimes chooses to show the deaths – accentuating that all are at Richard’s bidding, not by his own hand. Moreover, as they occur, the murdered, blood-necklaced corpses are dragged into place around the stage as a growing reminder of Richard’s culpability.

It’s clear where Godden and Grimes lie on the question of whether Richard was master of his own destiny or the cog in a Divine act of retribution. Here is a royal serial killer for whom the bloody route to power is more fascinating than the position itself.

Indeed, Godden plays the opening act with a flippant irony and mocking humour as Richard outlines his intentions in a series of soliloquies. It is clear from the start that such as Clarence (Chris Pearson), his elder brother and thus before him in line to his eldest brother’s throne, will not last long.

A macabre attention to the niceties of the murders

But there is a macabre attention to the niceties of the murders, too. When Russell MacIntosh as Tyrrel returns to report the successful killing of Richard’s nephews – the Princes in the Tower – Godden glows with lascivious delight as he orders him to return that evening and “tell the process of their death”.

Queen Margaret (Rhiannon King) in the Grads 2012 production of Richard III at St Bride’s. Pic Howard Elwyn-Jones.

This bare-stage attitude is not all good, however. Richard III is a complex play with Machiavellian intrigue. If the audience does not posses at least a basic understanding of the relationships between the different characters, these should be at least outlined in the performance and staging.

Right from the opening tableaux, Grimes fails to use every opportunity at his disposal to give that context. At times it feels a bit as if you’d walked in halfway through a particularly bloody episode of Dallas – in which Pam Ewing is dreaming of Edwardian garb.

It is quite telling that one of the most successful scenes is one of only two with scenery. In this case a coffin containing the dead Edward of Westminster, with his widow the Lady Anne in attendance.

Richard’s appearance appals Anne – he was responsible for the deaths of both her husband and her father in law, Henry VI. But the ensuing seduction of Cari Silver’s incredulous Anne by the smooth-tongued Richard is a brilliantly played out scene of tension and astonishment.

Silver and Godden conspire to reveal the depths of depravity to which Richard sinks in his pursuit of the thrills of gaining power. Whether it is over the country or over those, weaker than even he, who should be his enemy.

This is an intriguing production which irritatingly never quite makes itself as clear as it might. The words are all there, and the actions too, but the parts have not been merged into a whole as they might. And there are too many instances where the meaning of the words is not clear from their delivery.

That said, there are strong individual performances all the way through, from a cast which stretches to 21 actors. Not least from Godden, who portrays Richard’s physical deformity without going overboard.

Definitely worth seeing, but those who are familiar with the play or who have done a bit of homework about its context will have the best time.

Running time: 2 hours 50 mins.
St Bride’s Centre, Orwell Terrace
Run ends Saturday 24 November 2012
Daily: 7.30pm.

Grads website:


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