Title: Richard III
Cast: Martin Freeman, Gina Mckee
Seen on: August 2
Shakespeare’s Richard III has a special place in my heart, as it is the first Shakespeare play I ever did a monologue from to perform. The advantage of that being that I knew the story quite well and didn’t have to pay too close attention to the texts and could simply focus on the actors and the set. And let’s be honest, it’s a 400 year old play, you don’t want me going on about the text 😛
Martin Freeman as Richard is stunningly subtle. He manipulates, plans, charms and betrays his way to that all important end goal: King of England. The rage he is famous for doesn’t come out until well into the second act, when he thinks he has won. And even then it is contained, layered, and cold. “Thinks” being the operative word here, because Richard doesn’t win. But I am getting ahead of myself. Martin Freeman’s Richard is a bastard, a villain, but he is very witty and charming about it. And that is a testament to Martin Freeman’s fantastic comedic timing and brilliant ability to convey so much with just a look. Mark Gatiss, writer for the TV series Sherlock that Martin plays John Watson in, is famously quoted saying that Martin will read a script and take out half John Watson’s lines because “I can do that with a look”. And he can. Martin Freeman is utterly impressive.
The setting is in the 1970s, the set being an office space that doubles as an auditorium and prison. It’s not heavy on the dating though, it is mostly the decor and wardrobe that betrays this. More outstanding is the special effects and stage effects. Lighting is used for scene changes, spotlights on characters when they orate, and to foreshadow happenings. Music is used for dramatic changes, impressive moments, and to emphasize what is happening on stage. What struck me the most though, was the realness of the stage fights and the gore.
There are quite a lot of fights and murders in this play, and most of them are being acted out. The murder of the two young princes isn’t though, but that would be taking it too far I think. Instead, we get a blood-drenched Tyrrell and the message it is done. Still shocking enough, I thought. Richard murdering Anne was quite a shock too, especially as I was in the front row and they were practically in my lap. As was the murder of Hastings, which we don’t see, but we do get a long good look of his blood-drenched head as Buckingham shows it to Richard. And then there’s the final battle, where a cut throat actually sprays blood all over the first two rows of the audience (I am still washing it out of my hair…). Like it or not, gratuitous or not, I liked the use of that much blood throughout the play. It made it more real, more visceral, more impressive.
Overall, I was very impressed with this play. All the actors did a great job, though some of them could have used a bit more stage time and/or explanation. The set was busy but functional, and with the stage and special effects it worked really well to enhance the story and actors. The only downside for me was the orientation of the set. The Trafalgar Studio #1 is a square theater with the stage on the floor and the seats in front and at the back, so they are forced to play in profile (see picture above). This means that when you’re further up in the seats, you miss quite a lot of facial expressions and subtle looks, which is a shame. Even sitting in the front row, I missed bits here and there.
Nevertheless, it was a joy to watch Martin Freeman inhabit Richard, and I even saw a bit of Ian McKellan’s Richard in him. Glorious!