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Review: Richard III

The play to reign over them all?

The year is no longer 2018. Peace appears on the horizon but England remains steeped in uncertainty. There is finally respite from the enduring war that rages between the ruling York family and their fiercest rivals, the Lancasters. You can virtually smell the tension within the… retro 80s bar.

A sigh of relief simultaneously waves across the audience. It’s clear that this quirky adaptation will spare us from the mental ardour that a Shakespeare play usually entails. Each actor dons snazzy vintage-wear and the set rings familiar for all the Wetherspoons enthusiasts in the room. Stanley Thomas, playing the eponymous Richard, is the first to appear on stage, sporting an oversized bomber jacket and hipster glasses. Just as I become certain that this play is a pure throwback to the glorious 80s, I was admittedly confused when Thomas began to speak – the words were in 16th-century Middle English.

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Photo credit: Harry Redding

Throughout the performance, Thomas compellingly grows into his role as a Machiavellian mobster, in a formidable yet poignant performance. Every actor did an exceptional job at convincingly delivering their lines. Niamh Curran gave a particularly emphatic performance as the bitter Margaret, contrasting with Elizabeth's grace and composure, who was played by Tabitha Bardsley. The mobsters all maintained their swagger while displaying fear and despair when the moment called for some; it was the acting that added true vitality to this performance.

Although the adaptation is anachronistic by nature, its incongruences could have been avoided. Or perhaps you should just never go into a Shakespeare performance while unfamiliar with its premise. However, in spite of my own cluelessness, I cannot help but sense it would have been conducive for everyone if the original script itself had been slightly cut down and adapted. Much of the play is made up of dialogue, which would have been more digestible if I wasn’t expending my concentration on trying to work out if I even knew who all twenty-seven characters were. Often during scenes where only three characters were actively engaged, the stage was cluttered with seven or eight characters. The characters spoke of "noblemen" and "swords" while wearing Hawaiian shirts and smoking cigarettes. Even though the actors managed to pull off the look, it was totally unmatched by what they were saying.

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Photo credit: Harry Redding

Originality of concept, stellar acting, and an enviable costume collection redeem the performance as a clear success. With more refinement – considerations about staging, characters, and script-adaptation – the entire production would have been a decisive victory.

3.5/5 stars