Richard III

HANNAH MIRSKY is left cold by a beautiful but problematic reworking of Shakespeare.

ADC etg Richard richard iii Shakespeare

ADC Theatre, 7.45pm, 14th-18th January, £10/8

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This production looks fantastic. If you are a design connoisseur, it’s definitely worth seeing: a white screen and studio lights onstage create a simple but dramatic set, populated by characters wearing stylish monochrome costumes. There are silhouettes and spotlights and a proliferation of unexpected flowers. Sadly, if what you’re after is not just good design but a meaningful interpretation of Shakespeare’s play, or even an interesting show with a plot you can follow, you might be a little disappointed.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some good ideas. The TV-studio style set cleverly allows the appointment of Richard as king to be played as a broadcast interview, emphasising the public and carefully-staged nature of this scene. The account of deaths of the princes in the tower is genuinely touching, with the remorseful killer onstage, and the strobe-lit nightmare sequence frightens. Likewise, the acting is high-quality and committed, and the general tendency towards realism (with the strange exception of Rochelle Thomas’ exaggerated Margaret) prevents the show from disappearing too far up its own behind.

Unfortunately, the actors never really get a chance to develop their characters. Not only is the script drastically cut, leaving many performers relatively little stage time (not to mention making the plot spectacularly difficult to follow in places), but they are so over-directed and swamped with “concept” that there is little, if any, space for depth of character. They are reduced to mere snapshots of people, wailing woman or stone-faced murderer.

Shakespeare productions that are conceptually ambitious can be exciting and illuminating, but the biggest problem here is that the central gimmick, the use of two actors to play Richard, doesn’t really work. If it did, you could forgive the moment when water is unnecessarily poured over someone’s head, or the bit when they start talking about the Sunday papers. But having two actors in the central role doesn’t reveal anything meaningful about the play: it just turns a complex, internally-fragmented character into two less interesting ones. The things that can make Richard interesting to perform – self-berating monologues and even physical deformity – are dodged rather than confronted. As a result, this production feels a little hollow: there’s not much substance at its centre.

This a beautiful show to look at, but that’s almost all there is to it. The story and the characters have been scraped away to such an extent that, once you look beyond the lovely design, there’s barely anything there.