#Tweetingit – review in 140 characters: 4* Winter of discontent + my kingdom for a horse = Richard III alfresco style.
The Iris Theatre could not have picked a better home than St Paul’s Church for their interactive, immersive approach to Shakespeare’s work. Built by stage designer Inigo Jones, the church has a sense of majesty that naturally lends itself to the gripping tale of Richard III. With its combination of historical fact and dramatic licence, the story reads like a Hollywood blockbuster complete with roman numerals in its title. However, a movie scriptwriter would struggle to invent such a heady mix of ambition, betrayal and revenge.
The action begins with the final scene from Henry VI Part 3 where Prince Edward, heir apparent is slaughtered at the Battle of Tewkesbury. This sets in motion a train of events charting Richard’s pursuit of power and ultimately, the throne of England. The audience are led through the gardens to view individual scenes as the story develops. Much of the action takes place in front of the main church doors with teasing glimpses of a wonderful interior. The story cranks up a gear with the death of Edward IV and accession of his 12 year old son Edward. Richard is charged with care of his nephews, the uncrowned Edward V and younger brother Richard. With the Princes safely ensconced in the Tower, Richard machinates with cohorts Sir William Catesby, Duke of Buckingham and Lord Stanley. The audience enter the church to eavesdrop their deliberations. The interior has an awe inspiring splendour that lets us believe we are in 15th Century London; unlike exterior scenes, where passing jets and car alarms annoyingly break the atmosphere.
Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville is soon declared invalid, leaving his successors without right to the throne. Seemingly, there is nothing standing in the way of Richard’s kingship. He is crowned in 1483 and the Princes mysteriously disappear from the Tower. However, storm clouds are gathering as fragile alliances crumble and Richard faces rebellion. As the sun set on a perfect summer evening we were summoned to encampment at Bosworth. Richard prepared to do battle with the army of Henry Tudor, his rival to the throne. The audience became Richard’s warriors as he issued a clarion call to arms. We all rushed to view the exciting fight scenes. I suddenly thought, where’s my sword? I want to give Henry Tudor a good thrashing! Assuming he was the bad guy? In such turbulent times how could anyone judge when the lines of morality continually blurred. Richard is one of the most misrepresented figures in British history and continually divides opinion. However, history can only be as truthful as the person writing it. Richard was no better or worse than his contemporaries.
The cast was magnificent in their respective roles, unfazed by heavy costumes which must have been stifling in the heat. David Hywel Baynes was excellent as the scheming, murderous Richard. By curious paradox, he was also quite likable, enjoying a lively rapport with the audience. Some of the cast doubled up in cross gender roles. For example, Mark Hawkins was particularly good as the cocksure Sir William Catesby and truly scary spectre of Queen Margaret; Dafydd Gwyn Howells was a commanding Henry VI and matronly Duchess of York. Space doesn’t allow me to name check the entire cast but Laura Wickham was mesmerising as Queen Elizabeth, grieving for her lost Princes.
My only real qualm concerned seating arrangements in the performance area. There was invariably a mad scramble as the show moved around the venue. People jostled each other for the best seats which seemed unnecessary. Staff set out deck chairs as it became obvious that older members of the audience needed to sit down. Patrons lugging bags of shopping around seemed to further exacerbate the problem.
The Iris Theatre deserve a massive hi-five for making Shakespeare sexy. Some might say it always has been, but this show makes the Bard’s work just that bit more accessible. An excellent programme also provides a much needed aide memoire to a tangled period of Britain’s history. At 3 hours 20 minutes, Richard III is Shakespeare’s second longest play. I didn’t notice the time until the show finished – that’s the hallmark of a great production.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Daniel Winder
Producer: Tara Finney
Box Office: 020 8144 1898
Booking until: 25 July 2014