"Thrilling Production Of Shakespearean Villainy"
by Paul Ackroyd for remotegoat on 22/10/17

Front Foot Theatre's production of Richard III currently running the Cockpit Theatre is first class. It is a thrilling dynamic and dramatic presentation of this great Shakespearean play. Anyone who still thinks that Shakespeare is dull needs to see this show.

With the audience on three sides in the large playing space that the Cockpit Theatre affords it was presented on a largely bare stage. At the rear was a platform with large steps which were pulled out by the cast to create an elevated playing area. Even more elevation was achieved by the use of the high balcony area around the theatre for some of the scenes. What little stage furniture was required was wheeled on by the cast as necessary.

The overall theme was dark as befits a play whose prevailing theme is murder and the abuse of power. The large cast were dressed largely in black in modern style dress although with some references to more historical periods in the ladies' dresses and the swords and shields. The overall feel was of a sort of Gothic darkness and although some of the costuming was inconsistent it generally worked in invoking the mood. This was greatly assisted by effective lighting from a high ceiling, pervading smoke and very effective background sound effects. The darkness of the mood was lightened by the introduction of periodic humour, for example, in Act one scene 4 where Clarence's 's murderers confront him the tower.

The acting and direction was of a high order. The acting accolade for the evening must go to Kim Hardy in the title role. A slight figure, with a long, seemingly natural hair dressed in black leather and effecting a limp and withered arm . He was the epitome of "that bottled spider that foul bunch-bac'd toad" described by Shakespeare in the text. Unlike some characterisations of this role Hardy made no attempt to endear himself to the audience, he was nasty, cynical and manipulative: a classic Richard. This is a large play in every sense and requires a large cast and this Front Foot were able to provide, even then, some doubling was required but the director Laurence Carmichael ensured that character's names were made clear so that there was never any difficulty in being able to follow what was going on. This is a long play and some cutting was necessary to get it down to two and three quarter hours playing time (with an interval) but none of the essential content was lost. Nor were any liberties played with Shakespeare's language ( with the exception of one short scene using a modern radio to deliver the "news" of the death of the Princes in the tower) and the cast and director are to be congratulated for the clarity of their delivery. Every word was audible and the meaning crystal clear.

The pace never faltered as the action moved on from scene to scene flawlessly. Some of the most dramatic and impressive scenes were the battles with the large cast engaged in energetic violent conflict with the real steel of real swords clashing against shields: the fight director Lawrence Carmichael, and armourers James Unsworth and Rowan Winter clearly knew their stuff. There were other imaginative bits of staging, for example, the use of puppets as the young princes and the way the cast carried Richard into battle as on a horse, although I was less sure about the imagery implied by painting of the cast's faces .

This production is playing at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone until 4th November and is well worth a visit.

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