Richard III – Trafalgar Studios, London
“The winter of discontent” was used to refer to the period in the late 1970s in the UK where there were widespread strikes and trade union disputes. Jamie Lloyd has taken the Shakespearean quote and literally pulled the play four hundred years forward. It’s a clever idea, although maybe a little cliché.
I quite liked the concept, although I definitely wasn’t as keen on the set design, in this production the set is a political committee room, with two long rows of desks showing opposite factions. The rows of desks confine the actors too much, almost trapping them. This was particularly evident in the battle scenes where there wasn’t nearly enough room for the action to be as powerful and dramatic as it should be.
A number of 1970s televisions are used for video projection and microphones cleverly provide the concept of a press conference.
Martin Freeman makes for a decent Richard, he’s conniving and deceitful, sinister but darkly humorous.
The rest of the cast are all pretty great, they go flat out and rant and rave their way through the script at high speed.
The murder of Anne by Richard with a telephone cord is almost perfect, and Lauren O’Neil’s physical acting is brilliant.
Clarence (Mark Meadows) has his head plunged and his throat slit in a fish tank, complete with real live goldfish.
The rest of the cast are also on fine form, Gerald Kyd as Catesby and Joshua Lacey as Rivers both stand out despite the fact that their characters are usually pretty indistinct.
Gina McKee provides another excellent female presence as Elizabeth, her strong will and determination are clear and exciting to watch as she fights against the dictator threatening everything around her.
In comparison, Maggie Steed appears wasted, as Margaret she doesn’t seem to have received the same direction as the rest of the cast, instead of the cursing hag often portrayed she seems more like an annoying relative who just keeps appearing.
Freeman is definitely the main draw for this production, he holds the stage and his physicality is almost perfect. It’s a role where the plot and character is usually overshadowed by the villain’s apparent, but Freeman is casual, relaxed and businesslike, resulting in a performance that is even more tyrannical.
Unfortunately, for me Martin Freeman’s performance wasn’t enough to sustain this production. This is the third play directed by Jamie Lloyd and the second production of Richard III that I have seen and I can’t help but be disappointed by this particularly project.