"Compelling, fast paced, crystal clear"
by Avril Silk on 09/06/12

When I heard that the excellent Festival Players were bringing Shakespeare's 'Richard III' to Somerset's glorious Cothay Manor for an all-male, open-air performance in a June week that has seen floods and gales, I don't mind admitting I had qualms. At worst I feared a heavy-weight dramatic experience in pouring rain and wintry temperatures. In the event, an intrepid audience, equipped with thermals, woollies and brollies, was doubly blessed. First, the weather stayed fine. Calloo, callay. Second, the production was absolutely wonderful. I loved it. I could watch it again in a heartbeat.

David Lee-Jones's witty, clever Richard damn nearly made evil beguiling, inviting us to admire his shrewd manipulation of gullible, ambitious sycophants drawn to power like crows to carrion. His performance was riveting and fresh, as was that of his side-kick, the Duke of Buckingham played by Scott Smith. For one glorious moment it seemed that Blackadder (series 2) was working with Graham Norton. Scott Smith also gave us a terrific Richmond - I could see the light of battle and righteousness in his eyes.

At times we, the audience, were exhorted to root for one character or another. The universal truth was lightly demonstrated that, faced with power, peasants are well advised to keep their heads down and cheer on cue.

My grasp of history is verging on the feeble, but it did seem to me that initially Richard's wicked plots and murders were pretty much on a par with the wicked plots and murders of the other characters. The turning point was the murder of the children; the Princes in the Tower, and Richard's inevitable decline began. Of course, to relish fully Shakespeare's play, many of my generation have to put aside their memories of Josephine Tey's masterly 'Daughter of Time'. Tey's book examines the widely held belief that Richard was no murderer, but the victim of powerful Tudor propaganda.

Speaking of murderers, Anthony Pinnick as First Murderer, and Tyrrel, the professional assassin, was chillingly convincing. To also play Queen Elizabeth with strength and dignity was remarkable. The rapier-like exchanges between Elizabeth and Richard were an absolute joy. As with all the performances, I heard every word.

Apart from David Lee-Jones as Richard and Giles Stoakley, (who brought gravitas to King Edward and a crisis of conscience to the Second Murderer as well as being a skilful stage manager) all the actors played at least two male and one female parts, helped by splendid costumes which differentiated their male characters well and enhanced their well-observed depictions of femininity. Margaret of Anjou (Martin Tomms) gave a master class in cursing, and Tom Middler's gentle, doomed Lady Anne was eloquent and moving.I really liked his Catesby. The versatility, energy and talent of the whole cast was impressive. They maintained a cracking pace. Director Michael Dyer can be justly proud of this fine production. I enjoyed it enormously. The company is touring 'Richard III' throughout the summer. Give yourself a treat - find a venue near you on www.thefestivalplayers.org.uk

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