Richard The Bird? A Female Richard III Still Ruffles Feathers

Richard III, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse ★★★★☆

By Alannah Dorli Jones Last edited 39 months ago

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Richard The Bird? A Female Richard III Still Ruffles Feathers Richard III, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse 4
Photo: Marc Brenner

Gender-bending Shakespeare is of course nothing new, yet at least one audience member was baffled by the casting of Sophie Russell as Shakespeare's most infamous anti-hero. The irredeemable blood-lust of the character is totally at odds with traditional femininity, which is very much the point for Globe Artistic Director Michelle Terry, who seeks in this season to 'the power and perception of the feminine'.

Set in the same world and following immediately on from the Globe's concurrently running Henry VI, this production obeys the same rules: aesthetics are everything. If you wear trousers you are a man. If you wear a dress you a woman; a crown a king. Richards III is play that seems to start part-way through the action, with Richard having already begun his murderous career by offing the previous King Henry VI. In staging the two plays together, missing context is provided — though this Richard III stands up equally well alone.

Photo: Marc Brenner

Russell's prowling, white-clad Richard is gloriously loathsome and lecherous, revelling in his very darkest of deeds. Directors Sean Holmes and Ilinca Radulian's production has bags of wit and fun — the murder scenes are particularly enjoyable, and increasingly surreal as the death toll rises. A real high-point is the murder of Richard's brother Clarence, and another hilarious death from John Lightbody.

Like Henry VI, this Richard III could do with a bit more trimming — three hours is really too long to sit on those benches. The directors have pulled off a riotously witty and jarringly modern production in the midst of this most discontent of winters.

Richard III, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 21 New Globe Walk, SE1 9DT, from £10. 30 November-26 January 2020

Last Updated 29 November 2019