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FringeReview UK 2024

Low Down

In a female-led cast led by the eponymous Richard III (Michelle Terry) it’s striking that the trio of cursing women is this production’s highlight, in a production of Richard III directed by Elle While till August 3rd.


Directed by Elle While (Associate Director Indiana Lown-Collins), Designer E. M. Parry.

Composer James Maloney, Percussion/Music Director Zands Duggan Trumpet Tom Harrison, Saxophones Zac Gvi, Anna Kirby, Tuba Hanna Mbuya

Movement Director Jess Williams, Globe Associate Movement Glynn MacDonald, Costume Supervisor Alexandra Kharibian.  Fight Director Rachel Bown-Williams for RC-Annie Ltd, Breaking Down Artist Rebecca Lesley, Casting Becky Paris.

Head of Voice Tess Dignan, Voice and Text Nia Lynn, Wellbeing Leads Hannah Zoe Ankrah, Adam Bamborough, Scenic Artist Emily Carne

Head of Stage Bryan Paterson, Head of Props Emma Hughes, Head of Wardrobe Emmy Lucy Hughes, Head of Wigs and Make-Up Gilly Church. Production Manager Fay Powell-Thomas, Stage Manager Matt North, Deputy Company Managers Kristy Bloxham and Carol Pestridge, Stage Management Placement Charlie Henley-Castleden, DSM Georgia Rose, ASM Valentine Cutri.

Till August 3rd


In a female-led cast led by the eponymous Richard III (Michelle Terry) it’s striking that the trio of cursing women is this production’s highlight, in a production of Richard III directed by Elle While till August 3rd.

Margaret (Poppy Miller) Elizabeth (Marianne Oldham) and Joanne Howarth replacing Hayley Carmichael as Duchess of York prove the chorus can helm the play and act almost as the Eumenides, pursuing Richard: not for killing his mother who’s one of them; but her other sons and relations. As a reflection on male violence, this repurposing of Richard III has great potential.

Miller as the widow of Henry VI, also mourning her son, and Oldham’s Elizabeth, widow of Edward IV and naturally losing two sons and nearly a daughter, are both commanding. Miller’s adamantine revenant once appearing on the balcony ghosts in, scorned even by the other women, till they find her prophesies too accurate. Miller haunts the stage then stands up regnant and furious.

Oldham’s impressive too, dressed like a 15th-century Diana to start with. Gradually stripped of her dignity, she’s a ravishing and impressively-spoken queen, to whom others sue; is steadily bereft in violent blows, then blackmailed. Finally she’s a refugee.

Howarth almost off the page is remarkable too: in a voice like Roman bronze her Roman matron spits out the latest progeny of her kennelled womb, as Margaret scornfully describes her. Howarth repays that curse but redirects it.

Almost as pendant to the trio Lady Anne (Katie Erich) has moments, like Oldham, of spirited revulsion yet seems numbed into acceptance – though in this production more weight’s given to Elizabeth’s pursuit than Anne’s. Her joining the others in their laments and curses presages her being handed poison and writhing to death in an exo-skeletal dress.

Their litanies of Edwards Richards and Henrys are still invoked, even though the play as always is drastically cut down, as Richard III has to be: it’s the longest after Hamlet and being early has many more redundant lines.

Terry comes on as a blond punk Trump with a 15th century pudding-bowl wig (Gilly Church’s wigs are elsewhere impressive). The publicity shots of Terry with her own hair were more evocative.

At certain points Terry like others uses terms like “wokist” and adds a précis of some Shakespeare in contemporary language. It disturbs even the rhythm of the opening monologue. It’s thrilling to have the ensemble freeze as Terry speaks this, and interpolate ad-libs as she passes a victim. But inserting too many new bits of prose ensures we lose the snap and point of some of Richard’s rhymes.

The production too straddles contemporary and period, in designer E. M. Parry’s nods to half a millennium of abuse. It’s underscored by James Maloney‘s music, half braying jazz with a punchy celebratory air, half in tenebrous low winds shivered in ghostly sax, out of the horror genre.

So at the coronation a motley of red-baseball-capped Proud Boys stalk the procession. Costumes are gorgeous 15th century (Terry included) or contemporary; but the curious diffusion of this production means that counts for little. We seize on moments, as this show careens like a spinning-top just loosed from its moorings.

Not a bad thing in itself. Terry revels in the Globe’s unique capacity to rev up Richard III as an audience-complicit space. Groundlings actually kneel to the coronation; several delight in being glad-handled at key moments. The energy’s not in doubt and Terry’s bravura is cartoonishly vibrant. The narcissism of “Alack, I love myself” really tells here, leaping five centuries.

The psychopathic snap is there too, though its suddenness rather excludes those truly inky shadows, and time to contemplate in this quite full production of two hours 45 is limited. Concentrating on the psycho we lose what agency Shakespeare gave the man including his courage. The most famous line full of kingdoms and horses has been cut: as formulaically, like everyone else, Terry too is dispatched down the cellarage, There should have been time for such a word. Like Macbeth, Richard possesses martial dignity, and his fall must count, or why bother?

There’s energy elsewhere too, and distinction. For instance Buckingham (Helen Schlesinger) is lent a sibling delight in stratagems, but (like others if less excusably) doesn’t even sense the weather-change when she hesitates over killing princes and presses her suit. The ’giving vein’ line is kept, but not the one with ‘today’ in it, in a mini-massacre of best-known lines. There’s unwonted pathos at the end, this Buckingham bundled off and wailing.

While’s charactering of everyone else is clear too. Sarah Finigan’s a fatuous King Edward and obeisant Mayor, and being an even more obeisant Commissioner (got up like the Met), previously Rivers, gives Em Thane the chance to appear the willing dupe of an exceedingly nasty home secretary. Kibong Tanji’s open-handed, eloquent but clueless Clarence gets revenge as Stanley.

Catrin Aaron gets most fun after sloughing Hastings for a Murderer and later Tyrell. Tanika Yearwood does the same with Grey and the ever-ready Ratcliffe, as if everyone learns better the second time around. Rosalind Blessed’s Executioner, and, with Ayla Wheatley, groundling-bellowing Citizens, swell brutish prophesies across the pond.

Sam Crear’s Richmond – after a rollicking Catesby – introduces a different timbre to the proceedings Martial, contained, trumpet-voiced and fresh, Crear’s energy promises a new age.

There’s a surprising amount for Prince Edward (Isabelle Chiara Dawodu, also the younger Elizabeth) and Young Richard (Holly-Jade Roberts) to do, and they manage impressively.

The most striking scene is nearly the last: Richard’s dream. Though they’re not deployed in blessing Richmond (which we can lose) Richard’s victims dangling in ropes and bloodied shirts swing round one pillar to curse the recumbent Terry.

A curate’s egg is too harsh a judgement on so many concepts riveting themselves in core performances. The shadow of toxic masculinity is its giggling nihilism: Terry bestrides that, strutting Richard the narcissist.  But Richard wouldn’t dodge military service, and his complexity makes him a fit subject. Denying Richard’s courage has the boomerang effect of showing how, occasionally, the production can lose its nerve too.