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Oxford Playhouse

The new Headlong production of Shakespeare’s Richard III is to be seen if possible because of the intelligent and thoughtful direction by John Haidar who responds strongly to this text . He manages to get his actors to illuminate with intensity the characters they are playing. The only weakness in the production is a slight tendency for the more public scenes to be a bit too bleak. The hi-tech design by Chiara Stephenson is striking, memorable and completely serviceable, and it works well with the lighting of Elliott Griggs. The set has the two levels required, mirrors that make literal some of the lines in the play, and Stephenson creates a setting that conveys to the audience a kind of political Limboland. The cast is excellent throughout – Stefan Adegbola being an extremely strong and memorable Buckingham, Eileen Nicholas a very fine Duchess of York whose confrontations with Richard are searing as well as telling, Tom Kanji interesting as both Clarence and Catesby, to name but three of the twelve actors inhabiting all the roles. I was also impressed by Derbhle Crotty’s Elizabeth, Michael Matus as both Edward and Stanley and Leila Mimmack who doubled as both Anne and Norfolk. Heledd Gwynn was a notable Hastings and Ratcliffe. Caleb Roberts conveys a sense of the heroism and the stature of Henry VII at the end of the play.

One of the best ideas of this production is to begin it at the end of Henry VI, Part 3, so that we actually see the final confrontation when Richard kills Henry. This not only places the story of Richard’s usurpation of his nephew’s throne in context, it introduces John Sackville’s sensitive and vengeful Henry with a powerful image that justifies and focuses us on his wanderings through the evening as a ghost haunting the conscience of Richard. as a messenger of doom and retribution.  There is much to praise in this presentation of Richard III, including the cast’s ability to read the actual lines cleanly and present the story with clarity.

But above all, this is the play of the title character and Tom Mothersdale rises to the occasion admirably. He is on stage most of the time. He conveys the crippled, tortured body and soul of this increasingly megalomaniacal tyrant with great energy. He manages to convey not only the menace, but also the slyness and the wit, portraying vividly the black brilliance of the character or Richard III as conceived by Shakespeare out of his reading of Tudor propaganda. He also manages to make him sexy. After all, this is a man who, despite all his physical defects, manages to win to wife the widow of a man he has recently killed. Mothersdale and Haidar understand the erotic attraction for some of the tyrannical confidence of a man like Richard.

The production leaves many strong images in the mind after the event, especially some of the movement and caperings, some of the vocal tricks, of Tom Mothersdale. This is a strong interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s most successful plays and does real justice to the story of Richard III as told by Shakespeare.

  • Drama
  • By William Shakespeare
  • Directed by John Haidar
  • Cast includes Tom Mothersdale, Stefan Adebola, Tom Kanji, Leila Mimmack, Eileen Nicholas, John Sackville
  • Oxford Playhouse
  • In Oxford until 11th May and then touring.

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper first came to the UK to study English Literature at Oxford University and stayed. He was captivated by the culture and history of Britain, which he found to be a welcoming and tolerant country. After working in highly illustrated, non-fiction publishing for over a decade, he founded and edited the magazine Opera Now. Since then he has worked as a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting, a maker of audio shows and arts critic for several airlines, and as one of the team that started Britain’s first commercial classical music radio station, Classic FM, on which he was both a classical music DJ and creator and presenter of shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. Throughout this period, he also lectured in music and literature in London and Oxford and published short stories in Canada. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature. His first novel has just been published as an e-book. The title is City of Dreams. It is the first volume of a projected saga called The Dream Bearers. You can find the Kindle version of the book on Amazon.

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