"Richard in the London Underworld"
by Paul Ackroyd for remotegoat on 05/11/17

Pentire Street productions have produced a fascinating new interpretation of Shakespeare's famous Richard the third in their current production simply entitled "Richard" at the Barons Court Theatre. Their startling innovation is to split the character of Richard into two and play him as both parts of the infamous Kray twins in London's underworld of the 1960s. The impact of this simple but inspired choice is to change the entire nature of the play. The monologues now become duologues as the brothers talk to each other rather than to the audience. The dominant brother (the "Ronald" character) is the leader and the schemer whereas " Ronnie" is a psychopath continually shadowing his brother and prowling the stage, often with a claw hammer in his hand. Richard III's famous physical disability now becomes a psychological one.

The other major change made in this production was to replace the two princes murdered in the tower with a single Princess. The reason for this was not entirely clear but may have been to meet casting constraints. This production only contained eight actors of whom two were fully occupied playing Richard. This meant that the other six had to cover the other 32 characters in the original text. We are used to doubling in Shakespeare's history plays but this production took it to a new level and one felt particularly for Cyril Blake, who had to play numerous parts including most of the nobles and the murderers.

The director Matthew Turbot made very good use of the limited playing space at Barons Court Theatre, which cannot be more than 25 m² in total. Even with a small cast avoiding blocking in such a small space with the audience on three sides is a challenge but was achieved. The set was the interior of a bar with photographs of gangland leaders on the wall; apart from the small bar the only other items on the stage were three small movable stools. The costuming was appropriate to 60's gangland culture. Atmosphere was provided by effective lighting and backgound sound.

Duncan Mitchell and Samuel Parkinson as the two Richards were excellent and complemented each other well and the other actors provided good support most of them in multiple roles. I particularly liked Bibi Lucille , who played Lady Anne, the petulant teenage Princess and the cleverly imagined part of the secretary to the Kray's, who dressed in figure hugging dress assumed the role in the original text assigned to messengers and minor court officials often using a telephone as a device to deliver news and pass on orders.

This was not a production which allowed much scope for the humour in the play to come out and it was chilling and threatening throughout. The cast delivered Shakespeare's language well but rather too rapidly at times to be fully comprehensible and also there was rather too much angry loud delivery which made the 2 1/2 hours playing time rather wearing. I thought it was also a pity that the lights had to be dimmed to blackout between each of the, rather short, scenes which disrupted the flow of the action but this was probably a constraint of the playing space rather than a preferred production choice.

The play is in production at the Curtains Up Pub in Barons Court until 19th November and I think anyone who has an interest in the Shakespearean Canon would find this a very interesting and stimulating production. Due to the extensive doubling and the speed of delivery, however, following the narrative would probably be challenging for anyone without some knowledge of the text.

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