I’m blow­ing hot and cold over ‘cool’ Shake­speare

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

RICHARD III

Trafal­gar Stu­dios, Lon­don SW1

SINCE HE took over t he T r a f a l gar S t udios, di­rec­tor Jamie L l o y d h a s s t a g e d some of the most thrilling and ac­ces­si­ble pro­duc­tions of Shake­speare I’ve ever seen. And it’s all been done with an eye to keep­ing the bard as ac­ces­si­ble as pos­si­ble. There are low ticket prices for young au­di­ences. And with A-lis­ters tak­ing on ti­tle roles such as James McAvoy’s Mac­beth or, in this case, Martin Free­man as Richard III, Shake­speare has never been cooler.

This pro­duc­tion even looks cool. For the ’70s con­fer­ence-room set, de­signer Soutra Gil­mour ap­pears to have raided Lon­don’s swankier retro fur­ni­ture stores.

Richard and his ever-dwin­dling en­tourage en­ter and exit via two lifts po­si­tioned on ei­ther side of the stage. It is a set that be­longs to the Wil­son era, we are told in the pro­gramme.

It was a time of in­trigue and para­noia (mainly Wil­son’s) about dark es­tab­lish­ment forces that were out to get him. It turns out he was right. But the real in­trigue here is in the cast­ing of Free­man.

He’s an ac­tor whose best known roles — Tim in The Of­fice, Bilbo Bag­gins in The Hob­bit movies and Dr Wat­son in Sher­lock — ex­ude de­cency. And that’s be­cause cast­ing di­rec­tors surely sense in Free­man that very qual­ity.

So it is fas­ci­nat­ing to see how, cast­ing against type — de­spite his lat­est role as the worm who turns in the TV ver­sion of Fargo — Free­man han­dles Richard’s blood­lust and am­bi­tion.

It is never an un­in­ter­est­ing per­for­mance. Brim­ful of irony, Richard’s most ruth­less mo­ments are ac­com­pa­nied by a know­ing sheep­ish­ness, as if crimes such as the stran­gling of Lady Anne with a tele­phone cord were on a par with dou­ble-park­ing.

Mak­ing light of heinous mur­der i s t hi s Ri c hard’ s s i g nat ur e . But less con­vinc­ing are this Richard’s pow­ers of se­duc­tion. And when he se­duces Anne in the com­pany of the body of her hus­band he mur­dered, there’s just not enough charisma to be­lieve that Anne could be won over while in the depths of grief and at the height of her ha­tred for Glouces­ter.

It is less of a prob­lem with Gina Camp­bell’s poised Queen El­iz­a­beth be­cause this mass mur­derer, who is more Harold Shipman than dag­ger­wield­ing Duke, can get his way through the more tra­di­tional means of black­mail and threat.

There are false steps else­where in Lloyd’s other­wise en­gag­ing pro­duc­tion. Jo Stone-Fewings as a pub­lic school Buck­ing­ham is ter­rific up to the scene he pub­licly breaks down Richard’s fake re­luc­tance to take the throne. English re­serve gives way to the per­sua­sive pow­ers of a gospel preacher at full evan­gel­i­cal throt­tle.

This may well have worked for a Richard III set in Texas but not for one that is meant to re­call 1970s Lon­don dur­ing the Win­ter of Dis­con­tent.

And while I can see the temp­ta­tion to link Richard’s open­ing line with that pe­riod of strikes and strife, it’s hard to trans­pose this king’s bar­bar­ity to a time best known for the bins not be­ing emp­tied.

LESS CON­VINC­ING ARE THIS RICHARD’S POW­ERS OF SE­DUC­TION

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