The Arcola Theatre‘s production of Shakespeare‘s play is an unsettling experience
In this age of ‘post-truth politics’, let alone that we find ourselves in a general election, watching this fantastic production of Richard III is an unsettling experience. It’s a play about Richard Gloucester (Greg Hicks) the deformed prince, his ruthless machinations to become King of England, and his rapid demise.
At the end of the play Richmond (Jamie de Courcey), who will later take the crown for himself as Henry VII, says, ‘England hath long been mad’. It’s a madness and corruption that is born out of the deep trauma of the long and bloody Wars of the Roses between the House of York and the House of Lancaster, of which this is the last chapter.
While Richard tells us he has been deformed from birth, like a ‘bottled spider’, here it appears as the physical manifestation of the psychological scars of a man and society brutalised by years of war and intrigue. Even the gentle brother Clarence (Paul Kemp) has blood on his hands.
Along with the costumes, one is reminded of the paintings by Otto Dix and George Grosz in Weimar Germany after the war: decadence, deformity, and the grotesque. Catesby, eerily embodied by Matthew Sim, Richard’s apparatchik, fixer and executioner, is second only to Richard himself in his seeming lack of morality. But Catesby and Richard aren‘t psychopaths: the former grimaces when given his orders to kill, but carries them out any way, and Richard himself, the night before the battle of Bosworth, which brings his death, is visited by all the ghosts of those he’s murdered for the crown.
While he’s too much the brutalised veteran, the nihilist, for remorse, he’s not a man without conscience either. It’s an incredible performance by Greg Hicks, who even drinks his wine like the soldier who‘s seen and done enough things to make him hate all men.
While Richard feigns piety and even reluctance, in order to persuade the citizens to back his claim to the crown, one can’t help but think of Theresa May’s claims to care for the working poor and her repetition of the mantra ‘strong and stable’. She’s a bottled spider indeed.
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