Only in London would you find yourself sitting in a 400 year old theatre with the remnants of a massive 1980s towerblock over your head. The imperfect nature of the 1587-built Rose theatre's space is a good description of this Richard III. The all-female version is flawed, but still offers plenty to admire.
What impresses most is using the Shakespearean-era acting procedure, which would have seen actors in a company (PDF) take on more than one role (that is, across different productions; Elizabethan actors juggled several parts and productions at once). In Scrawny Cat’s production each one takes a go at Richard, lending a new portrayal of the 'poisonous bunch-back'd toad'.
Rosemary Tross is the icy, purposeful Richard with a hint of the control freak about her (watch her lose it when she can’t find her horse in the battle scene), while Charley Willow’s Richard is altogether more sinister and almost vulpine in her wily relish of courting Anne. We get Marie Rabe as Richard the politician, pacing up and down like a Prime Minister in her office, turning her terrible actions into amazing spin, and Victoria Allies is reasonable, if not a pastiche of evil, as Richard the villain.
We'd been intrigued by enthusiastic mentions of puppetry in the (eye-catching) promo material, but sadly the result is disappointing. The Princes in the tower are portrayed purely with bits of material over a hand, but look more like old crones. Weeping over bits of material on the floor as 'dead bodies' is, for us, an imaginative stretch too far.
What this production offers is experience in spades. Aurally, we have the mysterious gurgling and swishing noises from the eery excavation site beyond the stage. An excellent Elizabethan madrigal singer (Elizabeth Graham) wanders among the glowing red embers — the demarcation lines of the original theatre site. And physically, we were rather chilly, although the theatre kindly provides blankets. With a good energy from the cast and the ever fascinating villain of Richard as the play's star, there are a lot of winning ingredients in there, even if it feels rudimentary and unpolished at times.
Richard III is at the Rose Theatre, 56 Park Street, Bankside, until 26 April at 7.30pm (Sunday performances 3pm). Tickets £12 / £10. Panel discussion The Archaeology of London's Theatres, with leading theatre archaeologists, takes place on Monday 7 April at 7.30pm. Richard III resumes on Tuesday 8 April. Londonist saw Richard III on a complimentary press ticket.