This is a pared down Richard III for our times: the two-hour journey / traffic of 2023 and post-pandemic Britain, blighted by timeless power struggles.
Thus we get Boris Johnson as Richard III and Chris Frawley is excellent. An exuberant blonde wig, rotund slouchiness with hands in pockets make him totally believable. Frawley also speaks the verse beautifully and gets mood changes from plausible to menacing well. He lies, cajoles, gives orders and is every inch a hideous monster who never has audience sympathy. It’s an impressively nuanced performance.
There are problems though. There are inevitable textual anomalies including Richard’s disability which is mentioned a lot but seems to be a case of “not all disabilities are obvious”. And as always with re-located Shakespeare it’s never going to fit completely. Of course there are parallels. Richard III and Boris Johnson were both usurped but the reasons were very different. And the stories are, obviously not the same. Whatever you or I think of Johnson he is not a murderer. So you cannot “translate” every character in Shakespeare’s play into someone in 2022 frontline British politics. This bothered two ladies sitting near me who were very puzzled about who characters were “supposed to be”. All you can do is to draw attention to the way in which power struggles work, then and now and point up the similarities.
Having said that, it is a brilliant idea to recast Buckingham as bespectacled Dominic Cummings in a woolly hat, body warmer and scarf, constantly looking at his watch and phone. At first he’s Richard’s right hand man and then falls foul. Yes, there have always been people like that. Matthew Tyliankis is very good in this role. He both moves and sounds like Cummings but, like Frawley, speaks the Shakespeare well. Frawley, incidentally has a Belfast accent and every time he said “Buckingham” I misheard the first consonant but couldn’t make up my mind whether it was a deliberate subtlety or whether I was simply hearing what I wanted to hear.
Other good performances in this show include Landé Belo as an impassioned, angry, distressed Queen Elizabeth and Rachel Verhoef who multi-roles but is particularly strong as the sassy, insolent assassin.
In this context, staging the Battle of Bosworth, in which Richard dies, is a directorial challenge but Kornelia Adelajda finds some neat solutions. She has Richard asleep, haunted by the ghosts of those he has killed, dreaming restlessly calling for a horse, as any Richard III must. Richmond (Lucy Moss) is very confident female politician who “kills” her opponent with rhetoric as they stand at desks and we hear the familiar sound of House of Commons rumbling before a vote which she wins.
It’s a fresh, imaginative, topical take on Richard III with clear story telling and that’s welcome but some aspects of it work better than others.
First published by Sardines https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/richard-lll/