Impressive staging of Richard III at Nottingham Playhouse

Ian Bartholomew

Ian Bartholomew as Richard III

The last time I saw Ian Bartholomew perform he played a very convincing dictator in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at Nottingham Playhouse. Brecht’s masterpiece, an allegory which examines Hitler’s rise to power, draws us in to the point where we feel complicit in the terrible acts he committed.

As with his portrayal of Arturo Ui, Bartholomew has a mighty stage presence in Shakespeare’s Richard III which recently opened at the Playhouse. He’s dressed in a Gestapo-like military uniform and jackboots (another nod to Hitler) but he does not immediately appear to be the despot you expect. In fact, he’s somewhat self-deprecating and comical and by addressing the audience directly, he makes us feel part of his wicked scheme.

But the violence of this era nevertheless pervades the performance. A monarch’s reign, often established through battle, cruelty and strategic marriages, was by no means secure and this meant atrocious acts were committed like the imprisonment of the princes in the tower.

And in a perverse twist, Charles Daish, who plays Clarence, staggers onto stage on crutches, his face visibly pained, after suffering a real injury during rehearsals.

All of the actors performed well and the traditional Shakespearean delivery was peppered with an element of playfulness: I particularly liked the depiction of the two murderers as an East-End gangster and a young hooligan dressed in a hoodie, complete with cockney accents.

They also used the entire theatre to great effect and in the climatic moment when Richard is declared king, he stands on the balcony and we sit, surrounded by his supporters, gazing up at him.

On stage, the grey backdrop gives us a sense of foreboding, while the night before the Battle of Bosworth Field, horrifying visions are projected onto the white tent in which Richard fights his demons. The final battle scene was also wonderfully dramatic, with swords clashing and bodies strewn across the ground.

In the Playhouse’s production of 1984 last month the quest for absolute power is explored and this play follows on neatly from that. Although many historians now view Shakespeare’s Richard III as a piece of Tudor propaganda and are less inclined to apply a modern moral framework to his actions, there is no denying that this is a fascinating examination of power, tyranny and oppression. It’s also a must-see if, like me, you have been hooked by the discovery of the remains of the last Plantagenet king in Leicester.

Richard III is on at Nottingham Playhouse until 16th November. For details visit the website. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #mykingdomforahorse

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