" What a coup to finish a tour of Richard III in the Tower of London, right where Shakespeare set the action, a site specific theatrical event so imposing and atmospheric it had the audience buzzing with excitement as dusk fell and Yeoman Warders marched us to a Tudor style upstairs theatre space with seating on all sides. The space isn't ideal, wooden pillars obstruct the action and the lighting is blinding at times but the cast weaves constantly around the room so that it is impossible not to be drawn in, particularly when Richard's machinations send a series of victims to The White Tower, looming over the action through the windows with all the nightmarish weight of British state power.
Richard has always thrilled audiences with a combination of maliciously witty asides and sheer bravado, making him a strangely attractive and seductively crafty player in the corrupt world of politics where moral viciousness is a means of advance. Iarla McGowan conveys all of this with unstoppable verve and confidence, his Northern Irish accent somehow lending an extra layer of political intrigue to this contemporary production, where the suits and clipboards, backroom deals and mobile phone assassinations are strongly redolent of the politics of New Labour. Battle scenes are frighteningly physical, with phantom combatants assaulting the actors who grasp at the audience occasionally for support so there was no lapse of concentration on the front row.
The eight strong cast double up to play all roles, David Hughes inventively managing to play the assassin Tyrell and his victim Rivers in a convincing murder scene. The heart-rending scenes where Madeleine Hyland's noble Queen Elizabeth mourns the death of the King and then, her murdered sons, the Princes, build towards the most enthralling battle of one liners between her and Richard, played with hypnotic intensity by both actors. Nicholas Kempsey's extraordinary portrayal of the old Queen Margaret, who warns them all against the 'bottled spider' and predicts the damage he will do like a Greek oracle nearly stole the show, but in a cast of compelling actors, Iarla McGowan's performance was utterly mesmerising, which is only right and proper as this is Richard's play. " - Extra! Extra!
Richard, a crippled, bitter, yet dangerously ambitious man, is played well by Iarla McGowan, switching instantly from hungrily aggressive to charming when it suits his cause. The power Shakespeare can wield with words is never more eminent as when Richard explains to Queen Elizabeth that although he's killed her beloved sons and brothers, “in your daughter's womb, I will bury them”, which provoked a sharp intake of breath in the audience. Queen Elizabeth is emotionally played by Madeleine Hyland, the significant spaces she leaves in her dialogue as pleasingly effective as the physical spaces used on stage by all the actors. No set was needed, as the surroundings provided more than enough of a backdrop. Alex Barclay, who played Buckingham, was magnificent. He strode unctuously around the stage shooting slick pieces of advice at Richard during his ascent to power. The dopey Mayor seemed equally like a political send-up, the whole back-stabbing plot reminiscent of the scandals rife in modern politics. The final fight with Richmond (soon to be Henry VII) sees some well performed physical theatre from the whole cast, and by the end of the play you feel as dramatically drained as the actors must feel exhausted after so much excellent hard work. " - The Public Reviews
" Best bit of theatre I have been to since AC/DC at the O2 in 2008. Incredibly compelling performance by the cast and so much fun to experience RIII in the round - first time for everything. Really spare, tight production - loved it. - Audience Member
" An excellent production in all departments. Love&Madness have brought Richard III to the Tower of London for two nights only after playing at the Riverside in London and a National tour. Not surprisingly it was a sell out and we were treated to a grand night of theatre in a modern and minimal style.
We are lead into the infamous grounds of the Tower of London across the very cobbles in which countless feet have trodden, quite possibly even the bard himself! Past ramparts, steps and cannons and various outhouses and living quarters until we find ourselves in the Tower's Banqueting Hall, a long rectangular room with the audience on four sides. Down the middle of the room stand large octagonal wooden pillars, with uneven wooden floors and ornate light fittings hanging from a ceiling of plush, darkly resined beams. As the programme states, the original players 'would have loaded up with a small amount of gear – only what they needed to tell the story – and travelled the land'; and these players are proudly continuing the tradition here.
With minimal time to plan and set up this adaptation, director Ben Kidd and the cast have done an amazing job. Having toured it feels like a very developed show, but most of those shows would probably have taken place on traditional stages. This had a very different feel, with the area being around sixty feet long, the players had to inhabit the whole space and try to give every member of the audience the experience they had paid for.
They burst onto the scene in white shirts, red ties and party hats, beginning proceedings on a jovial note (he only fun they are going to get as the dark events unfold), and from the start a furious pace is upheld. The actors inhabit their parts and the space with skill and verve, and have very individual presences. The energy conveyed in the blocking and their placing in the space is electrifying. Whether they were right in front of you or had their backs turned and were at the other side of the space behind a pillar, the strength of their performances shone through. Irishman Iarla McGowan as Richard gives an energetic and ever watchable performance, with his hearing aid and deformed leg, he limps around the stage exuding pompsity and arrogance and becomes increasingly paranoid as the play progresses. Nicholas Kempsey is frighteningly good as Queen Margaret, all the more evocative for the white face, red lips and black dress she wears - bursting on with her stick she moves like a withered spider. And Alex Barclay also deserves mention as sneering, emotionally torn Buckingham.
Most of the actors have two parts and they interchange expertly, by removing a tie, or changing into braces. Gareth Llewelyn and Aimee Parkes become the Princes in the Tower - a haunting moment - as they are locked in the Tower and later murdered by the tortured Tyrell, played by David Hughes.
The overhead lighting is used throughout which lends realistic authenticity, along with stage lighting which really comes to bear at the end as the house lights are switched off and the ghosts of Richard's victims come back to haunt him in an extended and powerful climatic scene, in which the players repeatedly slam themselves violently into the ground.
Neil Sheppeck's Love&Madness present 'original classic theatre and new adaptations of classic work in bold, contemporary style'. This was a fine example of their work, and by focusing on the text as they did, and performing in such an atmospheric location, this production more than lived up to its high expectations. " - Fringe Review
" Love&Madness's production of Richard III was first staged at Riverside Studios last year. Portraying Richard as a sharp suited spiv making his way by whatever means necessary in a court of braying, self-satisfied politicos, it felt like a timely production for these credit-crunch days. So I was intrigued to see how such a resolutely modern production would fare in a setting that positively drips with history: the Tower of London.
Staging Richard III in this particular setting is a bold but apt choice. So how does a play whose characters are so overshadowed by the Tower – the threat of it and its secrets – fare in the actual building? The answer is, amazingly well.
The modern dress actually makes it more resonant; performed in a country currently ruled by a bunch of poshos cruising on a lineage of privilege, the play seems more contemporary than ever, with Richard set apart less by his villainy than by his self-awareness of that villainy. The modern setting also helps overcome the challenges of a set doesn't allow for bulky props or settings: instead of accompanying her dead husband's body, Anne carries his newspaper obituary, while the Mayor is shown a Polaroid of Hastings' head. Richard plots murder by mobile phone while his coronation is a choreographed photo opportunity. All touches, no doubt, added by necessity, but they are clever and effectively used – as is the backdrop of the Tower itself.
It's impossible to review the play without at least partially reviewing the venue: rarely can site-specific theatre have been so well-served by its site. There can be few more imposing entrances to a theatre; the long walk from the main gates takes you through some of Britain's most historical walkways, and you feel the Tower's beauty and its power with every step. The hall itself is pure ‘medieval banquet chic': the audience assembled in the round, on chairs pulled together, like honoured guests waiting to be entertained by a troupe of mummers. This sense of history made real is reinforced by the fact that there are Beefeaters – actual Beefeaters! – milling around as the audience are seated and leave. You don't get that in the West End.
The production itself has changed much in the time it has been touring, and mostly for the better. Iarla McGowan's Richard is a far more muscular incarnation than the original production's Carl Prekopp. He takes a while to get into his stride but when he does he brings a pleasing rage and slyness to the role. He's a bruiser willing to quite literally throw his weight around, reminding us that Richard is, first and foremost, a soldier who finds himself bored without a war. This physicality also helps with some of the more difficult plot points; Elizabeth's quickly-wrung – if ultimately false – concession that he will be allowed to marry her daughter is much more understandable when she's a moment from being throttled if she doesn't agree.
As Elizabeth, Madeleine Hyland becomes more impressive as she disintegrates in grief; in power, her Queen is a tad insipid. Alex Barclay's Buckingham is part Mandelson, part Campbell, all spin and sleaze: you can't help being rather pleased when he gets his head cut off.
The rest of the cast ably take on multiples roles. Doing double duty as Anne and Catesby, Aimee Parkes brings a touching vulnerability to one and a crisp efficiency to the other, while Will Harrison-Wallace is more convincing as smug Hastings than as Clarence, though the latter is, of course, a much harder sell. David Hughes slopes around the edges of the stage as a sinister Tyrell, especially impressive in his standout scene where he plays both Rivers and his executioner.
Because one thing the production brings out particularly well is that this is not Richard cutting a swathe through a sea of innocents, but a man who happens to be smarter and more ruthless than most ridding himself of enemies whose hands are no less bloody than his, and whose route to power was no more laudable. This circularity is reinforced by the appearance of Margaret (Nik Kempsey). In making her a drunken, hunchback cripple, she is not only the physical reminder of the court's blood-soaked past, but a visual echo of Richard: it is she who looks like the bottled spider, the poisonous, bunch-backed toad.
Director Ben Kidd's ruthless cuts to the text keep the play rattling along without detracting from it: the often boring ghost scene is reworked into a full-on hallucinogenic attack by all the ghosts on Richard at once; and Kidd's also solved his problem with the final battle scene, which in the premier was a low point but here becomes a fitting end, as the characters flail about beneath the blows of invisible enemies while a desperate Richard scrambles and trips around them.
What space they have is used extremely well. The cast work the room like politicians at a fund-raiser, lounging on windowsills behind the audience, swinging around pillars, playing out the action across the full length of the room. Occasional lapses of visibility are tiny niggles, a small price to pay to participate in what felt like a genuine event. Let's hope we see more of its kind. - Exeunt
Theatre-loving pilgrims flocked to the Tower last night to see Shakespeare's Richard III performed on a site which resonates with the echoes of the political alliances, power struggles, violence and murderous acts which feature in the play. In a unique creative meld in which different times and spaces came together as one, the audience is able to see the imprisonment of the young princes re-enacted before their eyes, while looking out onto the little doorway in the White Tower where they were later immured.
This production brings Shakespeare's account of Richard III's Machiavellian ascent to power to life. After a short and suitably stentorian preamble by an authentic yeoman, the audience is catapulted into a world of modern day office parties and politics. The play is transposed brilliantly into the modern-day corporate world of hostile takeovers, back-biting career ladder climbing and ruthless self-serving profiteering and inevitable redundancies.
Much attention is paid to animating textual detail and making it relevant to modern life. Richard's ‘victorious wreaths' are party hats in the context of the dénouement of a drunken corporate celebration. Richard uses a mobile phone to instruct his henchmen to do his dirty work.
Despite the actors' familiarity and ease with delivering Shakespearean language, changes that fitted brilliantly into the visual world of modern business fell short of containing the breadth of Shakespeare's original. Nevertheless, the inventive staging of scenes such as the ghost scene in Act V compensated for this to a great extent.
The humour was dark, ironic, imbibing its bitter taste from the shadows of the stone walls in which it was played out. Nicholas Kempsey as Queen Margaret stole the show with his phenomenal characterisation of the dowager queen.
As the play reached the interval, audience members were caught up in the drama — in more senses than one. They were literally imprisoned in the Tower, unable to leave until the Ceremony of the Keys had come to an end. Not that anyone wanted to leave. The entire audience trooped back happily to watch the drama unfold in the second half.
What's next in Love&Madness's quest to revitalise dramas by staging them in places which resonate with their main place of action? A Man for All Seasons in the Palace of Westminster? Shelly's Charles I at the Guildhall? In the immediate future, it's Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist – at the Waterloo East Theatre. Hopefully they're already in discussions to stage it at Scotland Yard. After that, who knows? The Divine Comedy … in paradise? Whatever it is, if this production is anything to go by, it will be staged with dynamism. " - Broadwaybaby