Review: RICHARD III, Shakespeare's Globe

It may not be winter but there’s plenty of discontent for The Globe's new production of Richard III

By: May. 22, 2024
Review: RICHARD III, Shakespeare's Globe
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Review: RICHARD III, Shakespeare's Globe

It may not be winter but there’s plenty of discontent: Michelle Terry’s female-led Richard III sparked uproar when the Globe announced that she, able bodied, would take on the eponymous disabled villain.

Neither “deformed” or “sent before (his) time”, all references to his disability have been carefully expunged. Instead her Richard is firmly shone through a grime-stained contemporary lens: Terry’s Richard is a hyper masculine misogynist grunting, lumbering, and bruising his way to the throne.

Clad in a punkishly anarchronistic mix of Tudor pomp and modern garb, skinny jeans and with a throbbing cod piece jutting out, Richard radiates masculine toxicity. His soliloquies are tinged with testosterone and slathered in sociopathic glee, a gremlin smirk etched on her face as she mimics Trump’s idiosyncratic finger gestures whilst sentencing Hastings to death.

But Terry pushes it to a maximalist level. Nastiness is not just hardwired into Richard’s DNA, he is actively playing up the toxicity to close his grip on power. It’s absurdly funny; as King, a Ken-like plastic six pack obnoxiously dangles out a loose kimono, cropped by Calvin Klein boxers.

But you can never quite tell when Richard is playing the villain or is really a marauding creep. Her bobbed bleach blonde hair conjures the spine-chilling evil of Jimmy Saville adding sulphurous dimensions to Richard’s relationship with the young princes doomed to the tower - and his niece who he intends to marry for political gain.

Meddling with the play’s DNA has its consequences. In severing Richard from his physical disability we lose a special bridge into his psyche. We can be both repulsed by his Machiavellian murderousness, and sympathetic to him because we, even if fleetingly, sense his vulnerability through the lens of his cruelly chastised victimhood. But that’s not the case here.

Richard is the all too human anti-hero of Shakespearean canon. Here he is more concept in a wider societal conversation about gender roles post #MeToo than human being. As fascinating as that is, it doesn’t burrow beneath your skin.

Review: RICHARD III, Shakespeare's Globe

The rest of Elle While's production suffers from being in a constant orbit of Richard. Scenes without him lack propulsion. Crucially the female suffering of Queen Elizabth, Anne and the Duchess of York that ought to unravel in the limelight in a production where gender is front and centre, feels underdeveloped. 

But I adore the tenacity of its vision. As do I applaud the production for sticking to its guns and not capitulating to pressure to cast a disabled performer as Richard. Freedom of artistic expression means freedom to interpret a text however we please: the meaning is up to us to create. 

Richard III plays at the Globe until 3 August

Photography credit: Marc Brenner


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