by William Shakespeare.
Trafalgar Studios (Studio 1) 14 Whitehall SW1A 2DY To 27 September 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thurs, Sat 2.30pm.
Runs: 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7632.
Review Carole Woddis 7 July.
Neatly matched winters of discontent.
Film and TV stars don’t always make successful transitions to stage. Jamie Lloyd’s Richard III, however, with The Hobbit’s Bilbo Baggins and Sherlock’s Doctor Watson, Martin Freeman, as the psychotic monarch comes off rather well.
Lloyd’s is an arresting if occasionally eccentric modern-dress production, inspired by the `the winter of discontent’ of 1979 when the rubbish piled-up in the streets and government and unions were at loggerheads. It was also the time of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, of dark mutterings and conspiracies, not least one a few years earlier by British security services to unseat the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, seen by some in the Establishment as a Soviet agent.
So Freeman is presented as a man entirely at home in pinstripe suit – later, startlingly, in the full scarlet and blue regalia of a House of Windsor royal – and as a British Army Colonel in Chief.
Smooth-faced, quietly watchful, as his deeds grow bloodier, his head juts forward like an eager spaniel. But there is nothing cuddly about the way he personally dispatches his wife, Lady Anne, with hog-grunting brutality. Indeed, the murders of Clarence, Rivers and others have a particularly bloody gruesomeness about them.
Freeman it is though who inevitably steals the show with Gina McKee (Queen Elizabeth) and Maggie Steed (Queen Margaret) not entirely helped by some strange blocking.
Freeman’s performance is remarkable not least for his careful textual delivery, often sardonic but never hectoring. Lloyd’s production as a whole admirably restrains itself from the general shouting that mars so many modern productions, although his use of public mics is overdone. His decision, too, to set the whole drama within the confines of an office (taking his cue from Freeman’s alter ego as Tim Canterbury in The Office?) proves self-defeating and physically limiting.
There are some wonderful moments of contemporary resonance such as Buckingham (the excellent Jo Stone-Fewings) orchestrating Richard’s faked humility in accepting the crown, and the sense that Buckingham, like MI5, has everything under surveillance.
Fresh and invigorating, this is definitely a civil service-oriented revival: one for Yes, Minister fans, if without the laughs.
Tyrrel: Simon Coombs
Richmond: Philip Cumbus
Richard: Martin Freeman
Catesby: Gerald Kyd.
Rivers: Joshua Lacey.
Stanley: Paul Leonard.
Duchess of York: Gabrielle Lloyd.
Hastings: Forbes Masson.
King Edward IV/Bishop of Ely: Paul McEwan.
Queen Elizabeth: Gina McKee.
Clarence/Lord Mayor: Mark Meadows.
Duke of Norfolk/Ensemble: Vinta Morgan.
Lady Anne: Lauren O’Neil.
Queen Margaret: Maggie Steed.
Buckingham: Jo Stone-Fewings.
Prince Edward: Louis Davison/Stuart Campbell/Ross Marron.
York: Tommy Rodger/Will Keeler/Tom Sargent.
Ensemble: Alasdair Buchan, Madeleine Harland, Julie Jupp.
Director: Jamie Lloyd.
Designer: Soutra Gilmour.
Lighting: Charles Balfour.
Sound/Music: Ben and Max Ringham.
Video: Duncan McLean.
Voice/Text: Barbara Houseman.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Associate director: Richard Fitch.
First performance of this production of Richard III at Trafalgar Studios London 1 July 2014.