Ninety frustrating minutes, with a surprisingly happy ending.
Thankfully, that was just buying tickets for Almeida director Rupert Goold’s latest foray into the Bard’s back catalogue, with Ralph Fiennes as the jealous, deceitful monarch and Vanessa Redgrave as skulking Queen Margaret. The now seemingly customary ticketing website meltdown only added to the sense of anticipation.
And this take on Shakespeare’s tale of dastardly Machiavellian manipulation doesn’t disappoint. It opens with the recent discovery of Richard’s remains in a Leicester car park. After the arch villain’s curved spine is lifted from the grave, his plotting plays out on a moodily-lit glass stage set above his final burial place. In a neat arc, he falls back into this watery tomb in the dramatic final scene.
Susan Engel (Duchess of York) and Vanessa Redgrave (Queen Margaret)
In a clever touch, each misdeed is marked with a haunting skull that hangs above the kingly throne Richard so desperately covets. As he follows one scheming murder with another – from his coerced wife to the young Prince Edward, whose claim to the crown he has usurped – the symbols of his treachery increase until you can feel the weight of their number baring down upon his tortured soul. Each skull is illuminated in turn when he is visited by the ghosts of his victims, as he attempts to sleep the night before his final battle on Bosworth Field.
Fiennes’ Richard is less the manic, bitter villain portrayed in the BBC’s excellent War of the Roses by Benedict Cumberbatch, and more a study in the cold, calculated pursuit of power. But it is no less effective for it. He brings all his suave charm to the role in a star turn that’s amply supported – particularly by Aislin McGuckin as Queen Elizabeth and Finbar Lynch as the Duke of Buckingham. Only Redgrave’s portrayal of the scorned Margaret is a little disappointing. The soft, considered delivery doesn’t really convey the depth of her rancour and at times is hard to hear, even though the Almeida is such a small theatre.
The mixing of modern and medieval dress is sometimes a little distracting. At one point Richard, in full suit of armour, is stood next to his advisor, who is dressed as a paramilitary. Not to mention the switch between assault rifles and broadswords. But ultimately, this doesn’t detract from a hugely enjoyable production and a refreshing take on one of Shakespeare’s best-known tragic figures.
Richard III is at the Almeida until 6th August and will be broadcast live to cinemas around the country on 21st July at 7pm. For more information: live.almeida.co.uk