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A CurtainUp London London Review
Richard III

"For never yet one hour in his bed
Did I enjoyed the golden dew of sleep
But with his timorous dreams was still awaked."
— Lady Anne
Richard III
Martin Freeman as Richard III (Photo: Marc Brenner)
Martin Freeman's acting career has taken an unusual turn, from his part in television, in The Office to the The Lord of the Rings films to a starring role at the Royal Court in Bruce Norris's play Clybourne Park. Recently he won acclaim for the supporting role as Dr John Watson in television's Sherlock to Benedict Cumberbutch's Holmes. His latest projects are the movie The Hobbit and the television series of Fargo. And here is the ultimate acting performance as for the first time in Shakespeare, he plays the ironic villain Richard III in Jamie Lloyd's production for his second Trafalgar Transformed season.

There has been so much interest in Richard III since the 2012 discovery of his body buried under what was a Leicester car park, the plans for the re-internment of his bones and the arguments about where that should take place. We know that Shakespeare was writing for the descendants of Richard's victor at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and that his version of history owes much to artistic licence.

Taking as his starting point, the "winter of discontent" that was 1979 with strikes and disruption, Jamie Lloyd sets his Richard III not at the end of Shakespeare's cycle of history plays but as a board room struggle in Soutra Gilmour's cramped office space. Clarence (Mark Meadows) is drowned not in a butt of Malmsey wine but in a fish tank, his crime being that he had a name beginning with the letter G. The error was they should have not have been looking for George but Richard of Gloucester.

Jamie Lloyd will usually thrill his audience with graphic violence and Buckingham's (Jo Stone-Fewings) death has him squirting blood from an artery in his neck, drops of which will land on the centre of the front row audience. Despite some reports (probably fabricated) of inappropriate laughter there was none on the night I saw this production. In any case Richard says one thing and then turns to the audience to indicate that he might have been lying with the most delightful mischievous expression.

In my opinion I think Richard III played with a certain amount of irony and humour works well. I found I couldn't take my eyes off Freeman for his myriad facial quizzical expressions revealing Richard's true intent. Interestingly, that when rehearsing they were aware of the Elliot Rodger murders in Isla Vista where a young man killed after problems with finding a girlfriend. These events reverberated with Richard III's words, "But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,/ Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;/ I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty/. . . . . /Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time/ Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,/ And that so lamely and unfashionable/ That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;/ . . . ./ And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,/ To entertain these fair well-spoken days,/ I am determined to prove a villain."

The Ringhams provide ominous music. The coronation is glossed over with Richard wearing the red dress uniform of the Guards adorned with braid and medals, while Buckingham grabs a microphone and works the crowd with oratory. The set makes it feel more like corporate politics than a struggle for a dynasty.

The female parts are strong with Gina McKee as Richard's sister in law Elizabeth Woodville supported by her brother Lord Rivers (Joshua Lacey), a regional accent delineating the Woodvilles' lower social position. Elizabeth Woodville (the first bride of a king who was also a subject) was the great grandmother of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots and so her descendants reign in England for the next three centuries. I liked too Lauren O'Neill's sorrowing Queen Anne, Maggie Steed's cursing Margaret of Anjou and Gabrielle Lloyd as Richard's mother the Duchess of York who so despises her deformed son.

Jamie Lloyd's talented productions are drawing a younger crowd as the relevance of these venerated texts are giving fresh meaning and excitement.

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Richard III
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jamie Lloyd

Starring: Martin Freeman, Gina McKee, Jo Stone-Fewings
With: Alasdair Buchan, Simon Coombs, Philip Cumbus, Medeleine Harland, Julie Jupp, Gerald Kyd, Joshua Lacey, Paul Leonard, Gabrielle Lloyd, Forbes Mason, Paul McEwan, Mark Meadows, Vinta Morgan, Lauren O"Neill, Maggie Steed, Louis Davison/Stuart Campbell/Ross Marron, Tommy Rodger/Will Keeler/Tom Sargent
Designer: Soutra Gilmour
Lighting: Charles Balfour
Sound and Music: Ben and Max Ringham
Fight Director: Kate Waters
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7632
Booking to 27th September 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 9th July 2014 performance at Trafalgar Studios Whitehall London SW1A 2DY (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross)
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