Review: “I almost fell in love with the medieval brute”★★★ Richard III, Arcola Theatre

The last time I saw Greg Hicks on stage at the Arcola Theatre, he was playing a macho old-school tabloid editor in Clarion, reminiscent of some I have had the pleasure of working with.

Seeing him now play the infamous tyrant Richard III may perhaps seem as if he is being typecast, but his portrayal of Shakespeare’s martinet is so much subtler, that dare I say it, I almost fell in love with the medieval brute.

Sara Powell as Queen Elizabeth and Greg Hicks as Richard III at Arcola Theatre

As the final installment of the Bard’s tetralogy (which also contains Henry VI parts 1-3), Richard III lends itself perfectly to modern-day interpretation, with the good versus evil plot line easily lifted into almost any era.

In Mehmet Ergen’s production we are transported to, well I’m not sure when, as there’s a real mishmash of costumes. Some of the more mature cast members appear to be in 70s garb, while the royalty are clothed in robes, so the timeframe in which it is it set is a bit lost.

The wealth of seasoned actors on display, including Peter Guiness as Buckingham and Sara Powell as Queen Elizabeth, deliver a good quality if not slightly slow depiction, but I must say, I prefer the tale of the dastardly wannabe King portrayed by a more youthful cast, as I feel they bring a more realistic torment to the rival factions and a desperation to their thirst for power.

There are also a number of occasions when the iambic pentameter becomes a bit much for some of the performers, particularly in the scenes with the young princes, which are stiff and feel under rehearsed.

The acumen of the lead cast thankfully outweighs the occasional slow Shakespearian waltz however, and Greg Hicks (disabled by chains in a masterstroke by costume designer Sarah June Mills) and Peter Guiness both put in accomplished performances.

Anthony Lamble’s multilevel, yet sparse set design ensures the focus is on the dialogue at all times, while David Howe’s lighting helps to differentiate between friend or foe, for those new to the play.

With a bit of tightening up, this production could be a regal romp, but it lacks the youthful exuberance, which gives Richard III its teeth.

Richard III is at the Arcola Theatre until 10 June 

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