Review: Richard III, Upstairs at The Gatehouse ✭✭✭✭

Perhaps it is only because I am currently halfway through the box set of Breaking Bad, but everything I see at the moment seems refracted through a complex ethical lens. Amidst a good number of set pieces in Hiraeth’s Richard III, including a company-trademark split scene of rallying battle cries, Gollum-esque ingenuity involving a dangling coat, and some superbly acrobatic combat, my favourite moment came from Lewis Howard’s vulnerable Clarence, alone in the tower following his spurious G-based arrest.

Continuing in the vein of last year’s Romeo and Juliet, Zoé Ford has once again been merciless in her editing of the text, presenting us with a distilled Richard III which nevertheless captures all the twists and turns of the plot at a breakneck 2 hours and 10 minutes. And so Clarence, in a rare moment of poetic repose, delivers (what is now) a poised soliloquy reflecting on his misdeeds and the complications of the shifting sands of roseate loyalty, culminating in a prayer: “O God! […] execute thy wrath in me alone,/O spare my guiltless wife and my poor children.”

It is this fragment of moral honesty that sets up the priorities of this production. On the one hand, the fulcrum is still Richard’s exploitation of others’ capacity for forgiveness, followed by his failure to keep up his villainous airs. David McLaughlin begins the piece with stalking manipulation before sliding through paranoia to reach a wonderfully conflicted loneliness at the climax.

But his undoing is largely at the hands of this production’s second strength, namely its women and children, who are foregrounded by the streamlined text. From the porcelain fragility of Helen Reuben’s Lady Anne, to the vituperative acid tongue of the believably grief-stricken Queen Elizabeth of Gemma Barrett; from the cock-sure posturing of Mary Cormack’s humorous Prince Edward to the crackling Freudianism and jaded glamour of Tabitha Becker-Kahn’s Duchess of York, the domestic casualties by far outweigh the political machinations for subtlety and affect.

The male cast are equally memorable (and attractive in their shirtlessness, I needlessly add) – in one particularly potent scene, they all stick the knife in to Chris Pybus’ authoritative Hastings in a blood ritual which binds Richard to Callum Cameron’s ruthlessly academic Catesby and Pip Gladwin’s Machiavellian henchman Buckingham; Josh Jefferies, as both Rivers and Richmond, is scarcely less animalistic clad in fur pelts.

The atmosphere of tribalism and martial law could be considered to be to the detriment of the finer points of the nuanced family tree, but Zoé Ford’s directorial choices and Nadia Malik’s design elements all cohere in this post-apocalyptic rendering reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. After an intelligent contextualising opening using the bloody conclusion of Henry VI Part III, we are treated to roses transfigured into moths, Yorkists and Lancastrians delineated by leather and sheepskin, and brutal murders rendered variously and unflinchingly before our eyes (aided by Jack Weir’s bold lighting design and Erin Witton’s eclectic thudding soundtrack).

Hiraeth’s Richard III is an accomplished, ethically bleak romp which strips this classic text down to its brutal and entertaining essentials – and since you’ll be in the pub before 10, you’ll have ample opportunity afterwards to give it the mulling over it deserves.

**** (4 stars)
Runs until 1st March
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