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BWW Reviews: RICHARD III Slays the Audience in the Little Theatre

Reviewed Saturday 3rd August 2013

The University of Adelaide Theatre Guild is celebrating its 75th Anniversary, and so William Shakespeare seems an appropriate choice of playwright for such an auspicious occasion. Obviously, one of his lighter, comic works would not be quite right, and they are produced too often to mark a significant date, but Richard III, one of the 'history' plays, filled with intrigue, murders, and war, a major production of great proportions, fits exactly.

Being staged in the Little Theatre, within the university grounds, presents some big challenges, as the name of the venue implies. The small, semicircular performance area, coupled with a large cast, places demands on the imagination of the production team. The four aisles, and the walkway around the top of the seating, are used, as well as the two entrances either side at the rear of the stage, and the mezzanine stage above it. Part doubling also occurs, partly among the smaller roles, but also with major characters taking on extra roles, generally after their demise at the hands of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as he climbs the royal ladder.

As usually happens, some of the text has been cut but, even so, the first half runs for ninety minutes, and the second half for another sixty. It has also been, that dreaded word, modernised. In this case, though, it really only means modern dress, and the use of guns instead of swords, not a complete overhaul by a director with an overactive ego, and no understanding of Shakespeare. The director in this case is the award winning, Megan Dansie, somebody with a great respect for the works of the Bard.

The War of the Roses, the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York, the two warring houses, has apparently ended, and Edward IV is on the throne. There is hope for a peaceful future, but open warfare is to be replaced by intrigue and assassinations, lies and slander. Shakespeare places Richard at the centre of all of this, something that Anthony Sher observed and brought to the fore in his interpretation of Richard as being like a spider, in the 1984 production for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Richard systematically removes everybody in the way of taking the throne, anybody who might make a counter claim, and anybody else who might speak out against him. He lasts for only two years until his defeat and death in the Battle of Bosworth Field, the last king of the House of York, and the last of the Plantagenets.

Shakespeare is a master of political spin, his painting of Richard as black as jet legitimising the taking of the throne by the House of Lancaster, and then its passing to the Tudors. Elizabeth Tudor, Elizabeth I, was the monarch when Shakespeare was writing and so, pleasing her by making her claim to the throne even stronger by running down the last of the York monarchs, also added to his own standing.

Bart Csorba is a standout as the Duke of Gloucester, later King Richard III, and so is Gary George as the Duke of Buckingham, Richard's right hand man and greatest supporter. Yes, of course, Richard eventually has him killed, too. Csorba doesn't let up for a moment, beginning by delivering his opening speech directly to selected members of the audience, in Brechtian style, a technique to be repeated later, and a bold directorial move by Dansie. In just that one speech, Csorba shows several aspects of Richard: his cold ambition, his bitterness, his anger, and his skilled use of words to get his way.

Csorba goes on to give Richard the necessary charisma to make his seductions believable, essential if we are to accept that his machinations are successful. We also see the megalomaniac moving from background to foreground, and the eventual unrealistic demands and refusal to face the truth of the situation, the insanity, which leads to his death.

Gary George gives his Buckingham a devious mix of looking out for himself, with an eye on the rewards when Richard sits on the throne, coupled with a silver tongue that enables him to convince the populace that Richard must be king, yet suggesting that he is not quite as enamoured of Richard as he says. This is another complex characterisation, balancing that of Csorba in their scenes together.

There is excellent work, too, from Rachel Burfield, as Elizabeth, and Celine O'Leary, as the Duchess of York. Burfield shows all of the sadness, despair, helplessness, and anguish as Richard's killing spree seems unstoppable, and her family is decimated and dishonoured. As touching as her performance is, so that of O'Leary is filled with righteous indignation spilling over into fury. One can almost see venom spitting forth with her words.

There are plenty of other strong performances, such as Tony Busch as Hastings, and also as the thoroughly unpleasant Tyrell, Peter Davies as Stanley, Jamie Wright as Edward IV, Sam Rogers as both Rivers and Richmond, and lively work from Miriam Keane as Catesby.

There was good support, too, from the rest of the cast: Alex Antoniou, Gina Cameron, Joshua Coldwell, Geoff Dawes, Paul Duldig, Alice Edgley, Steve Marvanek, Imogen Nicholas, Vanessa Redmond, Cate Rogers, Tim Williams, Jonathan Zagler and Amin Zargarian, although some inexperience showed, in particular the few who only engaged when they had lines to deliver.

On the technical side, Richard Parkhill's phenomenal lighting and the elaborate scenic art by Jason Ankles, coupled with the multimedia by Kate Van Der Horst and the sound by Tim Allen, all worked like a Swiss watch, taking us from small chambers, throne rooms, and various other interiors and exteriors, through to Bosworth Fields, with the York and Lancaster armies fighting each other from opposite sides of the theatre, across the heads of the audience sheltering in the foxholes.

Having brought accolades and awards to the Guild last year, and now directing this excellent production for them, no doubt they are already looking for more productions to offer to Megan Dansie.



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