BWW Review: RICHARD III, Royal and Derngate
Held together by a mesmerising performance by Tom Mothersdale, Headlong's production of Richard III races along at such a pace that it's only after it stops that you realise exactly how much ground they have managed to cover. In John Haidar's hands, one of the very longest of Shakespeare's plays is a just over two and a half hours - including interval - which means that the death toll mounts at some speed.
Dragging a leg in a brace, contorting his body at every turn, Mothersdale turns in an extraordinarily physical performance, but his Richard is also a psychopath, obsessed with his appearance and with personal advancement to spite those who discount him. His knowing look at the audience as he woos Anne says "Can you believe I'm really doing this?", and the audience really can't - but sadly it's over in a flash, as the action advances on. There's no time for more than a gasp of shock at his audacity and skill.
You can't miss Richard's duplicity though. Chiara Stephenson's set reminds you at every turn - a dark structure with a semi-circle of mirrored entrances reflecting the action or revealing the ghosts of Richard's victims assembling in judgement over him.
But those mirrored entrances were where I felt the hustle of the play the most - the constant dashing in and out and fiddling to get the mirrors in the right places was a little wearing at times. And if you can drag your eyes away from Mothersdale, there are some strong performances in the supporting cast - Stefan Adegbola is impressive as Buckingham, as is Heledd Gwynn as Hastings and Ratcliffe.
One of the things you lose in the breakneck pace is a sense of the passing of time. The action could have taken place over a week, or a month - rather than years. It also means that some of the most famous lines flash by, and are gone almost before you realise that they were there. If you know the play, you won't have any trouble following it, but if you've studied it, you may be annoyed to find it so compressed and truncated.
My companion, who hadn't seen Richard III before, said he might have had some trouble following all the details if he hadn't read the summary first. But as we walked out of the theatre, all we could talk about was Mothersdale's performance, which dazzles you and disguises the production's other flaws.
Photo credit: Marc Brenner