With nods to both the legendary Olivier and the McKellan versions, this is an extraordinarily beautifully spoken version of Shakespeare’s play, but I am afraid it just falls short of the mark. You can certainly see what this production is attempting to achieve, however it still leaves us feeling a little emotionally uninvolved.
This is a pared back abridged version with cuts, and many of the cast playing several different characters as required throughout the play, which can be a little confusing.
This production, directed by and starring Mark Kilmurry, is framed as a dangerous act of theatre, in which six players gather in a dark, sparsely furnished bunker to perform Shakespeare’s Richard III. There is a sense of suspense, of wartime desolation, of destruction.
Barely acknowledging each other upon flurried arrival, the cast set straight to work ,at first rehearsing short, key snippets of scenes, the sword fight in particular. Costumes, props and a set of benches, a table and dead TV sets have already been assembled. Kilmurry straps on a hump, picks up his gloves, assumes the now stereotypical gait and a clandestine performance begins, rather quietly and at a nervous pace.
What then develops is a sturdy presentation of an abridged text, occasionally interrupted by the menacing sounds of barking dogs, loud bangs on the door (which is monitored via CCTV) and patrolling helicopters overhead, all adding intensity and suspense, in what is a highly stylised production.
The cast speak in a broad range of accents, that dip and change as characters and alliances change.
The abridgements work well, as do some deft touches of theatrical shorthand – taking glasses on and off to demonstrate a quick-change between multiple characters played by a single actor.
Some key set piece moments do not really catch fire and we feel little for Clarence (Matt Edgerton) as he hurtles towards his death. Also the build up of circumstances towards Bosworth Field is rushed through and barely indicated.
As King Richard III, while beautifully spoken and with a very expressive face, Mark Kilmurry portrays him as shallow, calculating and manipulative rather than darkly villainous, and it is hard to care for him. The King’s wooing of Lady Anne is played straight and with plenty of feeling. This is in contrast with some of the set piece/famous monologues which did leave me unmoved.
Danielle Carter of the exquisite alabaster skin was tremendous as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Edward. I liked the effect for the Princes in the Tower of having them in brightly striped, very posh school blazers and boaters, but it also in some ways made them look like a vaudeville act.
Patrick Dickson as Buckingham gives a strong, splendid performance. Matt Edgerton is terrific in his many roles as assorted characters. Amy Mathews was most impressive.
At the finale, Kilmurry pauses for a tense, dangerous moment. He looks at the crown. He then drags on his coat. The ominous helicopter sounds increase in volume and appear to be coming much closer. He grabs a piece of chalk, defiantly writes the date, hurriedly scribbles ”Richard III” and vanishes out the door. They were there and this performance happened. We, the audience, were with them.
Running time – roughly 2 and a half hours including one interval.
”RICHARD III” runs at the Ensemble until July 19 and then transfers to play at the Parramatta Riverside theatre between July 22 and 26 .