With the exhumation of Richard III’s skeleton underneath a car park in Leicester in 2012, Shakespeare’s play, and with it the history, has found a place again in the mainstream media. People from around the world followed the discovery and the resulting scientific findings, and artists started looking at the play again, perhaps with a more scientific and historical eye than before.
The Almeida’s own history is a scientific one, it having been the 1857 home to the Islington Literary and Scientific society, and Rupert Goold opens the performance with that same unearthing of the painfully shaped spine of Richard, which retains its subtle visibility in the contemporary costumes of Jon Morrell’s designs.
Hildegard Bechtler’s stage bridges the gap between slick modern designs, functionality and period emblems, most notably the so-desired icons of power: throne, sceptre and crown; in a way suggesting that whilst the aesthetic does, the mechanisms of power and how it is attained do not.
It is a play which directors, and those actors playing the lead who barely leaves the stage from the very first and world-famous lines of, ‘Now is the winter of our discontent…’, until his death in the Battle of Bosworth, are in equal parts compelled by and anxious of. So much so that Antony Sher, who played Richard in the 1985 production at the RSC, published his diary entries entitled Year of the King characterising his agonies from the day he was offered the part to the opening night.
Ralph Fiennes masters the over three-hour-long performance with a brilliant and sharp sense of humour carrying the audience through this short-lived theatrical experience, seemingly without trepidation. The production is fierce, the staging elegant and timeless, the performances strong and fearless, never missing a beat, and the directing poignant, brutal and modern.
Infrequently, Goold opens the stage to comment on current affairs: the Bishop, in a rather concerned tone of voice, announcing the falling of the curtain of silence (and how much does he stem the fall – not much!), a victorious Richard after the wonderful posse of being begged to take the crown to ensure stability within the kingdom… highlighting the inescapable truths of power then and now: one does not fall into it, it takes careful planning to acquire it; it often comes from a place of loneliness, or the need to prove something, and leads to further isolation. In a year during which British politics has seen a number of changes in leadership positions, and has managed to isolate itself drastically from friends and allies – perhaps there is no time more pertinent than now to fire warning shots into the confusion.
This production is an extraordinary ensemble effort, and will rightly be shown in a cinema live stream event.
Playing until 6th August at the Almeida Theatre, Almeida St., London N1 1TA
Tickets www.almeida.co.uk, 020 7359 4404, firstname.lastname@example.org
Review by A. Kornitzer