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FringeReview UK 2017

Richard III

Arcola Theatre, London

Genre: Classical and Shakespeare, Drama, Theatre

Venue: Arcola Theatre, Studio 1


Low Down

Artistic director Mehmet Ergen’s Richard III snakes round the Arcola played over by David Howe’s lighting. Anthony Lamble’s fine set boasts a platform used with occasional frisson, and a gantry-walkway not quite exploited enough. A faded gold tile effect floor suggests worn-out courts. Dinah Mullen’s sound tells us we’re living in a contemporary world.



Greg Hicks is the wound-up key to releasing a modern Richard III in times where psychopaths and re-emerging misogynists who ‘grab pussy’ as we’re reminded here, can find ruthless correlatives where parallels don’t need underlining. Artistic director Mehmet Ergen’s lean but not very cut Richard snakes round the sparse scaffold-rich Arcola played over by David Howe’s lighting, moving from tenebrous court to splintering daylight scenes of battle. Anthony Lamble’s fine set boasts a platform used with occasional frisson, and a gantry-walkway not quite exploited enough. A faded gold tile effect floor suggests worn-out courts. Dinah Mullen’s sound tells us we’re living in a contemporary world as a pre-set Hicks in leathers plays with a spinner on a small café table with a bottle of red.


That table-and-bottle detail’s strikingly similar to Emily Carding’s magnificent one-woman Richard III which tours the world to acclaim. Bottled spider he might be, but clearly the cork’s out. Hicks of course coils his own way out of the opening soliloquy with a hissing élan and it’s only when he stands you note his withered left arm also attached to a chain on his left leg. If Hicks walked naturally he’d describe circles of hell, which is where he is.


Hicks’ lean-charactered delivery is raspingly pure, an oxymoronic clarity in serrated things. His ‘breathing world scarce half made up’ is hard, breathless. His spiking others with a word or phrase as when he plays with the princes is chilling. Faced with the precocious York whom he can see will be ‘capable’ – well-formed in body too, he goes on to predict that pert replies betoken: ‘So wise so young, they say, do never live long’ and you wonder with Hicks’ Richard, who beguiles little with shade or psychopathic charm, why his listeners don’t get it. Later, give a toy biplane token of the young York’s death, he dive-bombs it to crash, like a child. That infantile spinner-top wasn’t isolated. Hicks’ Richard isn’t motiveless.


A misogynist who blames his mother for his deformity, thus all ‘Tell-tale women’, we see this Richard terrorise Georgina Rich’s fixated Lady Anne, who crumples in barely-contained terror before his abusive suit. Anne has not been won by ‘this humour’, but admits she’s lost. Like his later even more sickening hit on Sara Powell’s Queen Elizabeth for her daughter (his own niece) it ends with a kiss as sexual assault. As in the Almeida Richard III last year the women bond and impress, though here the balance of men is finer. Richard’s mother Duchess of York is carried by Anne Firbank like a fine-boned exclamation to Richard’s rattling question-mark, speaking with venomous clarity. Jane Bertish, former Queen of Curses, baulks an imposing figure to dwarf them all in shadow, and speaks like it.


Hicks never loses the tension of the arc he describes and its trajectory. There are rare eddies when he’s off-stage, but then so much of this concerns his henchman Catesby, Matthew Sim’s show-stealing KGB officer, white haired and black-leathered. Sim coffin-nails every scene he’s in, his lean hungry glare moving in for the kill each time. Sim though starts to empty Caetsby around the time of Buckingham’s fall, his willingness more and more mechanical, as if eaten from the inside to a cadaverous husk.


Paul Kemp makes Richard’s hapless elder brother Clarence a more substantial as well as corporeal presence than we might be used to, though the line about killing him before he’s had a chance to be eloquent is cut, and of course he is. Kemp’s Stanley is a study of circumspect gambits and survival strategies, finally breaking out at the right time. His sad glowering at the doomed Hastings (Mark Jax) is poignant, starting when Hastings might have fled. Jax’s rendering of Hasting too is a model of the gulled man, startled at his fate.


Peter Guinness’ Buckingham answers Hicks and Sim for leanness but displays less chill. You almost like him for his loyalty too, feel for him when Richard finally turns on him when not in the giving vein as promised – Hicks’ body-language already so hostile you wonder why Buckingham doesn’t get it. When Hicks serpents out Buckingham’s belated scruples (about the princes) with ‘circumspect’ you want Buckingham to bow, agree to anything and ride off secretly very fast, then recall those he too scaffolded. Guinness almost suggests a Buckingham in love with his stratagems however, his claiming of reward a reckless testing.


Jim Bywater usually exudes a seraphic innocence, and though he makes a suitably anguished dying Edward (only forty-two we might remember) Bywater as Mayor of London is his ideal role here. Soundly out of his political depth in a rare comic shaft of gullibility – the priceless moment when he returns with his cherries blazes – he stands for everyday normality in the face of a terrorized city.


There’s good work to from Jamie de Courcy in piercingly fine voice as Richmond, where his former role of Brackenbury is cast off for clarion projection. Femi Elufowoju Jr makes a noble early-dispatched Rivers (like Hastings, baffled by their demise) and like Georgina Rich swells Richmond’s ranks.


Hicks though has centripetal force; everything swirls inwards with him and only Richmond seems able to withstand it. We soon forget the walkways and possible contemporary resonance, ingest that later. The immediacy of deformed power is so glaring the you think the sun of York will never go out.