Review: A Cheeky Dick and The Monster Within



Richard III
Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Stratford on Avon

from Richard Lutz

You can’t separate history from art.

When Shakespeare wrote Richard III in about 1592, he was always looking over his shoulder- or rather above his shoulder- at what the monarch and her cronies thought. It had to be that way. Otherwise your theatre was shut and your head rammed on a pike.

So, this play is simple: it’s about watching your theatrical back (and your head). And it’s about an end of the discredited Plantagenet lineage and the rise of Tudor monarchy. Richard III is the most vile of villains- all premeditation and corrupt murderous deceit. And his conquerer -the soon to be Henry VII (Elizabeth I’s Tudor grandfather)- is the golden hero.

But what elevates this play from the sword rattling humdrum is the main role. This plotting Richard is articulate, funny, wise with words and above all in a creepy way, interesting. He wrestles with his snake-like conscious about his bloody plots…but at the end goes for the throne despite the gore and entrails that must pile up around his feet.

He  is played by JonJo O’Neill who revels in the caustic sarcastic asides like a 21st century comic launching into a Friday night sell-out tirade. He knows his audience and, once or twice, relies on the cutting remarks too much to make his point to a willing audience as we get to know Richard’s nasty inner thoughts. This ultra-comic approach is not helped by his eye-catchingsimilarity to US film funnyman Ben Stiller. Is this a production played for one too many laughs?

The real strong points in this play, I found, are the chunky women roles. And thanks to heavy hitting performances, I suddenly realised just what good rounded female characters there were in the play.

There are a quartet of actresses who should take a bow: Siobhan Redmond as Edward IV’s grieving queen soaked in widowhood but human enough to take on Richard III’s menace; Sandra Duncan as Richard’s  mother who quietly nurses her wrath as she sees her grandsons and son Clarence  murdered; Paola Dionisotti as an aged widow of Henry VI who is all rage and words in her venomous dotage; and, Pippa Nixon as Richard’s short lived wife who turns on a penny as she goes from hatred to love for the hunchbacked Richard.

This is a dark play and a play that many say presaged modern theatre where we get to know the recesses of the human mind through monologues to the terraces. We get to know Richard alright, barbed asides, viciousness and all.  And it ain’t a pretty sight.

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