BWW REVIEW: Kate Mulvany Delivers Shakespeare's Sinister King RICHARD 3 With Delicious Depth
Wednesday 1st March 2017, 7:30pm, Playhouse Sydney Opera House
Peter Evans (Director) re-imagines Shakespeare's RICHARD 3 with Kate Mulvany presenting a deliciously evil expression of the vile, murderous, manipulative King. Presented as a mirror to the modern world, Evans proves that Shakespeare's work is still holds a necessary warning some 4 centuries after it was first published.
Designer Anna Cordingley captures the Royal Court in what could be a contemporary club or sitting room of a grand home. Wood panelled walls; a display of busts, all turned to show the spines; French style antique chaise lounge and armchairs; Japanese samurai sword display; a multitude of glasses and bottles; and a dumb waiter all serve to convey the excess and status of the inhabitants. Given the fact that the players in this tragedy are trapped within the curved walls, movement of furniture, Benjamin Cisterne's lighting, Steve Toulmin's compositions and Michael Toisuta's sound design separate the scenes. Repetition of themes including the hedonistic celebrations and the acapella hymns sung by the cast help move the story on, conveying the passage of time and the changing mood. Cordingley's costuming of evening gowns and dinner suits give the impression of a never ending party and highlight the individuality of the women whilst enabling the doubling of the male roles, considered expendable, blurring into each other as they each serve their purpose and are disposed of. In contrast to the quality of the attire, Cordingley presents the coveted crown with a glittered casualness of a dress up prop, making Richard III look all the more like a sinister spoilt child manipulating those around them.
As the unlikely King, Kate Mulvany presents the "deformed, unfinish'd" Duke of Gloucester with a limp, hunch, weak arm and sinister snear, utilising her own physical challenges from childhood cancer to not only physically represent Richard but also understand the prejudices placed on him that resulted in everyone else not seeing him as a threat for the throne. Between his deformity, smaller stature and order of birth, he was not viewed as King material. Whilst the publicity shots show Mulvany in a corset and cornrowed hair, Evans has opted to have Mulvany play the King as written, a male, in dinner suit and masculine undercut. Mulvany draws the audience in to Richard's plan to be the villain of the piece, making them complicit in the treachery that unfolds as she breaks the fourth wall almost continuously, catching the audiences' eye even when lurking on the sidelines of the story. Her facial expressions as Richard's blood lust and thirst for power increases are priceless with a reptilian oiliness but she still manages to elicit a degree of unsettled sympathy for the shunned loner who at the end of it all has no one around him either due to having already ordered their demise or their defection.
As Queen Margaret, Sandy Gore gives the monarch a calm gravitas of one confident enough to lay down warnings, curses and impart wisdom, defiantly returning to the Court after being banished following the loss of the Lancastrian men, King Henry VI and her son, Edward Prince of Wales. When not involved in the story, Evans keeps Gore, as with other players, onstage, but removed, either totally ignoring the events, or subtly watching on. Similarly, Sarah Woods' Duchess of York sits on the sidelines for most of the story, but coveys a grief and anger as she too curses Richard 3, her only surviving son, following the Princes' deaths but the intensity and emotion could run deeper.
As Richard's first romantic target following the murder of Edward Prince of Wales, Rose Riley presents Lady Anne's confused emotions and gullibility with a youth and ambition. The quick change from hatred and loathing of the man that bought about her husband and father in law's death, as she grieves over King Henry VI's body, is presented with a blend of innocence and also cunning as it appears she is agreeing to the union with the Duke of Gloucester for the sake of securing her future. She captures Lady Anne's eventual complete disdain for Richard 3 prior to Lady Anne's demise at Richard 3's bidding. Riley is the only female to undertake double roles, presenting the spoilt, Prince Edward V, recklessly taunting his uncle, ignorant of the Duke of Gloucester's designs on the crown that he playfully dons.
As Queen Elizabeth, Meredith Penman is more present in the course of the work but her lack of power, eroded by the death of King Edward IV and the murder of her sons, sees her as a less intrusive character until she rises to the defence of her daughter Elizabeth, who Richard 3 has set his sights on following the removal of Lady Anne. Penman presents the protective mother with a fortitude and anger before appearing to relent then retiring to The Shadows, broken.
Of the men, given the generally get killed off, Evans has opted to have most actors cover two or three roles. Given their short stay, most of the men are presented without much definition, serving the purpose of filling out the story but not being significant voices. Of the men that stand out, James Lugton gives the roles of Earl Rivers, Ratcliffe and the May of London a wonderful gravitas, clarity and memorability. As the Earl of Richmond, who successfully challenges for the throne, Kevin MacIsaac (who also undertakes the roles of King Edward and Brankenbury) exudes a levelness and confidence that understandably draws away Richard 3's supporters.
Whilst Evans suggests he based his expression on the situation that has unfolded in the US with the power hungry Trump, this 'inspiration' doesn't clearly carry through to the production. He hasn't drawn obvious comparisions to world leaders but the beauty of live performance and art is that it asks the audience to consider its relevance and through that can the links be made to the USA, North Korea and even Australian politics.
RICHARD 3 is an intriguing, thought provoking work, held together by an amazing performance by Mulvany. This latest work for Bell Shakespeare is presented in a manner to keep it contemporary and therefore accessible even to those not familiar with Shakespeare's work. With the requisite amount of bloodlust involved in a Shakespearean tragedy, a captivating sword fight and an enduring reminder of Richard 3's vengeful plotting, this production should travel well as it thrills and chills audiences in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.
Sydney Opera House
25 February - 1 April
Canberra Theatre Centre
6 - 15 April
In Conversation: Sunday 4 April, 1pm - 2pm (free event)
Arts Centre Melbourne
20 April - 7 May
In Conversation: Sunday 23 April, 1pm - 2pm (free event)