BWW Review: DRUIDSHAKESPEARE: RICHARD III at THE ABBEY THEATRE
A Sumptuous Feast for the Senses
Theater heaven. A rare occurrence when every component of a production converges in perfect harmony to create a tour de force. Druid Theatre Company have accomplished this with their current production of Richard III. Adding pizzazz, Opening Night was attended by a fine complement of glitterati from Irish radio, theater, and screen.
How does a sadistic devil win our loyalty? By bewitching us with his ingenious discourse. And as a writer of endless wit, Shakespeare remains peerless.
In a remoulding of history, Shakespeare draws inspiration from the Tudor's unflattering accounts, fashioning Richard III as an unscrupulous "Elvish-mark'd, abortive, rooting hog!" The charismatic "bunchback'd toad" flatters and woos, manipulates and connives, in pursuit of his knavish obsession to wear the Crown of England. He usurps the throne from King Henry VI, the heir apparent, Edward (from the House of Lancaster), his brother, King Edward IV (from the House of York), and concludes by 'eliminating' all remaining heirs to the throne (brother Clarence and Edward's sons) along with several ill-fated kinsmen for good measure. His reign is short-lived with the crown returning to the House of Lancaster when he is slain by the Earl of Richmond at the battle of Bosworth.
A marvellous cast of 13 play 25 characters, clocking up an impressive final death toll of 10.
Garry Hynes, one of the 3 founders of Druid Theatre Company, was the first female director to win the highly coveted Tony Award in 1998. Her compelling vision, discerning eye for detail, and infectious love for her art was evident in every scene and in her stellar cast's performances.
Francis O'Connor entices with a deceptively spartan set. Pleasingly carpeted with soft dark clay, the stage is enclosed by 3 full-length iron walls, forming a claustrophobic coffin-like chamber. The walls are later revealed to be a series of panels swinging open to access the wings. However, the lone object that most irresistibly draws our attention is an ominous human skull, levitating center stage, and lit hypnotically from within its clear glass cubicle. Shortly we discover that a grave lies directly below. Death nabbed the best seat in the house.
The barren stage forms a perfect canvas for Francis O'Connor and Doreen McKenna's resplendent costumes, with every scene a lush work of art. O'Connor and McKenna went to town, garbing the royal women with lavish and opulent girdled silk gowns. The men were equally imposing with voluminous and gaudy embroidered tunics.
There is a palpable ripple of anticipation as the play opens with the immortal lines:
"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;"
Aaron Monaghan's opening soliloquy as Richard III is unforgettable. The amiable villain candidly confides in the audience outlining his odious mission. So beguiling and irresistable is his manner that we unwittingly abandon our scruples and cannot but secretly hope for his success.
Political manipulation remains as rampant today as in Shakespearean times. Every scene reveals Richard's cunning schemes (falsely cloaked as innocent concern), which include a simple (and final) solution for those he is unable to corrupt. Despite the intense physicality of his role, particularly his inturned leg and limp, Monaghan remains electric throughout in a mesmerizing portrayal of the antihero King.
Following this production, Monaghan will deservedly join the ranks of other illustrious Richard III alumni including Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Laurence Olivier, Al Pacino, Ralph Fiennes & Benedict Cumberbatch (the only direct descendant of Richard III to portray him.)
Garrett Lombard and Rory Nolan, both highly skilled character actors, are sublime as the incorruptible Hastings and obsequious Buckingham. Siobhán Cullen is ethereal as Lady Anne (and later Queen), offering a silent acceptance of her ultimate destiny which was deeply poignant. The Duchess of York (Ingrid Craigie) reminds us why it is never a good idea to cross our mothers. Her venomous curse on Richard surely sealed his fate at Bosworth. Jane Brennan is majestic as Queen Elizabeth - a clear match for Richard in wit and persuasion. She cleverly bides time for her daughter who Richard hopes to marry.
I was tickled with several delightful anachronisms including the pair of industrial fans which cast long, sinister turbine-blade shadows during the execution scenes. My favorite was dapper Catesby (Marty Rea), dead-pan as executioner in a bowler hat and incongruous Northern Irish accent. He uses a very modern-day 'item' to reunite his victims with their Maker. Macabre yes, but in Sweeney Todd style, inexplicably funny.
This is one of the finest productions I have had the pleasure of attending in Dublin. I was inspired and humbled by the fierce talent on display, and will definitely be returning with family and friends before the run ends. Miss it at your peril.