Review: A Stripped Back Richard III Creates Some Disturbing Moments
The Faction are a physical theatre company making a name for themselves re-inventing classic texts for a modern audience. Currently playing at The New Diorama Theatre, their version of Shakespeare's Richard III is a stripped back production that relies on an ensemble cast playing multiple roles as well as standing in for set, scenery and props!
Christopher York is a physically powerful, aggressive and baby faced Duke of Gloucester who lies and murders his way to becoming Richard III in this bloody tale taken straight from the history books of late medieval England.
The Faction make the bold choice to survive without any set at all, adeptly presenting the turbulent events of the story (directed by Mark Leipacher) through a mixture of mime, tightly choreographed physical sequences and striking chiaroscuro lighting design (Chris Withers). The innovative use of sound (Lex Kosanke) to suggest absent props (for example the grating sound of swords or splashing to indicate the vat of wine in which Clarence of York is killed) is particularly well-executed, creating some extremely disturbing moments.
Despite much inventiveness however, the production falls flat at points, especially in the wordy, complicated first act. Partly this is down to the fact some actors aren't as adept with the verse as others and partly due to a lack of energy that slows down the physical sequences. Sadly, the familiar tendency of under experienced actors to over-emphasise the poetry and strain over Shakespeare's words is not entirely avoided.
That said, there are some stand-out performances which carry the play and redeem it in the second act. Several of the female actors are particularly good, including Winnie Imara as the cruelly treated Anne, Carmen Munroe as the wise but tormented Duchess and Kate Sawyer as the indomitable white queen Elizabeth. These actors are united in their poise and ability to grapple with the sense as well as emotion of the verse.
Elizabeth and Richard's eventual showdown in the middle of act two is the most emotionally intense and gripping of the entire production. The pair play off each other in a fast-paced and fiercely charged scene which perfectly captures the drama of the moment when the Queen confronts the murderer of her children, the Princes in the Tower.
In general York is a fantastic Richard, re-incarnating him as a menacing, tortured and sinister young soldier. Disappointingly however, he resorts to slipping in and out of the claw and hunchback motif as a symbol of Richard's inner demons, a choice that feels both unnecessary and outdated.
Richard III is now playing at New Diorama Theatre, 15-16 Triton Street NW1 3BF, until 6 February. Tickets £17/£14. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 11 January 2016