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RICHARD III – Trafalgar SW1

LOCK, STOCK, AND NO BARRELS OF MALMSEY                The Bard Mouse width fixed
A credit in the programme for “fish care and health” answers one distracting question about Jamie Lloyd’s rackety production. “Do goldfish mind fake blood?” . For the Duke of Clarence (Mark Meadows, after a fine rendering of the famous drowning-dream) meets his end not in a butt of Malmsey but in a fishtank. With added stabbing.

His murder is a fairly brisk affair (possibly so as not to upset the fish). Later there is a prolonged, Tarantino-screaming torture of Rivers (Joshua Lacey in a sky-blue suit and Geordie twang), and an almost pornographically prolonged grunting strangulation of Lady Anne. Richard himself does that, on an office table under an Anglepoise lamp. Just as well there’s an 18+ warning: the murderous usurper is Martin Freeman, beloved as Bilbo Baggins.

The murdered princes are represented, thank God, only by Tyrrel reappearing covered in so much gore one suspects him of massacring a passing buffalo on the way back. Hastings is beheaded offstage, enabling Lloyd to commission another of his bloodsoaked plastic heads, as in in his ferocious 2013 Macbeth.

For this production is aimed fair and square at the action-movie generation (excellent ticket deals, £ 15 on Mondays) and Lloyd expresses the hope that many will not have seen theatre before, let alone Shakespeare. It is fast, violent and greatly appreciative of Richard’s black jokes and ironies. Frequently the cast pick up microphones and amplify part of a speech: this would work better if it either always indicated a public statement, or an inward thought. But illogically it does a bit of both, as if someone feared that the text itself might not keep us awake without occasionally becoming three times as loud. Though never as loud as Ben and Max Ringham’s bursts of soundscape, including at one point a few bars of the Ride of the Valkyries.

If these crudenesses are at the expense of depth, but thrill newcomers, they may be worth it. Freeman is a brisk staccato Richard, and with a few exceptions (mainly the women) the verse is treated with a brusque naturalism which gets the jokes and story across, but can jar. Notably it sabotages that most audacious of scenes where he woos Lady Anne over her husband’s still-bleeding corpse. A speedy, jerky manner entirely robs Freeman of the necessary nasty magnetism, the Richard charm: it makes her capitulation downright baffling. Most of the moments which really thrill are from Maggie Steed’s tremendous, cursing Queen Margaret and GinaMcKee as Elizabeth, who in the second act deploys a powerful,terrified, defiant grief while brutally gaffer-taped to an office chair.

Ah yes, the office furniture. Lloyd sets the play in 1970’s Britain, with programme notes on the CIA plot against Harold Wilson a. There are electric typewriters, an executive Newton’s Cradle toy clacks away, Jo Stone-Fewings’ Buckingham looks like a cartoon tax inspector, Simon Coombs is a gangsta Tyrell, and the little Duke of York bounces in on a Spacehopper. Whether this ‘70s setting will mean much to a younger audience I do not know: it might be wiser to set it in some indeterminate military coup. The text sometimes sits uneasily on the explicit office set, too, to the point when “My kingdom for a horse!” causes even the speaker to smirk.

But the ghosts before Bosworth (some promoted to hallucinations in the battle) are strikingly effective amid flashes, crashes and taserish crrrrkkkkK! effects; and Freeman does achieve real Shakespearian power in the reluctant self-horror of his “I am I” speech. It made up for a few earlier moments when one felt that he’d really be happier six feet under a Leicester council car park.

box office 0844 871 7632 to 27 September     http://www.trafalgartransformed.com

Rating: three   4 Meece Rating


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