Served by a sumptuous cast and set, John Haidar’s production of Richard III brings an instant classic quality to Shakespeare’s blood-drenched conclusion to the War of the Roses.
This production neatly reshapes the play’s complex system of family relations, alliances, and rivalries without simplifying it to excess. We begin with a flashback to the third part of Henry VI, with one of Richard’s earlier murders, the killing of king Henry VI, whose death precipitates the bloodshed described in Richard III. From there, the story unfolds with the efficiency of a tragedy.
Tom Mothersdale’s performance as Richard III is magnetic. In the last moments before his death, Henry VI describes the cohort of ominous beasts that announced Richard’s birth: crows, dogs, raven, and chattering pies all clamoured to herald the coming of this human cataclysm. After such a monstrous annunciation, it seems fitting that this Richard III crawls and bounces spider-like across the set. This Gloucester is a charismatic monster who woos, corrupts, plays, bites, and stabs with equal delight.
Stefan Adegbola’s smooth Buckingham brings the right dimension of policed corruption to this political drama. During Richard’s crowning, the entire theatre is turned into an assembly, with Richard’s followers scattered among the audience. While all the cast does the play undeniable justice, the choice give some of Margaret’s line to the character of Queen Elizabeth does take away some of the former’s bite, although it gives the latter added depth.
The set, designed by Chiara Stephenson, surrounds the protagonists with a wall of mirrors that can reflect or conceal, reveal or pivot at will. The stage is haloed in mist and the dominant colours of the production –nuanced greys, stark whites and inky blacks with a dash of red – give it a graphic, modern quality that effectively renders the court’s haunted atmosphere without sliding into dreariness. The production even manages one or two frightening moments, aided by the play’s cohort of ghosts. This staging of Richard III is bleakly cinematic in the best sense of the term.