There’s only one meaty role to speak of in Richard III. It’s all about him – or rather her – as it is in this Bell Shakespeare production which stars Kate Mulvany as the crooked monarch.
The four female roles of dispossessed queens and widows must be content with endless lines of rage and grieving, while the men play a quick parade of miscalculating nobles and henchmen doomed to a bloody end.
Anna Cordingley’s royal sitting room, with its dark panelling and antique furniture, reminds us that this drama of horrors is essentially a family affair. Dressed in 1940s evening wear, they sit randomly around, the men regularly swapping roles but, trapped, no one leaves the stage.
An antechamber with shelves of shadowy, blue glass torsos and a service lift bringing horrors from the basement are two rather heavy handed indications that all is not well upstairs. But as others scheme, no one blames Richard for early acts of dastardly. No one even credits this hunchback with kingly ambition until it’s too late.
Director Peter Evans masterfully handles this theme of unseen, creeping tyranny – and its depressing topicality. He’s well-served by the agile theatrics and false faces of Mulvany’s mercurial Richard, as he suspends not only our disbelief but that of his royal relatives.
This is Richard the Ham Actor, with the black, villainous heart of Iago but none of his subtlety. With her knowing stares and plays to the audience, Mulvany’s Richard is devilishly charming and – in her female form, which is otherwise irrelevant – adds to this villain the personae of a dwarfed and rascally boy. She makes us feel a shocking sympathy for Richard’s aloneness and crippled alienation; she’s electric as she watches, incredulously, the behaviour of normal people and how easily she can exploit them.
As to them, in a cast sometimes uneven, James Lugton (as an oily Rivers), Ivan Donato, Sarah Woods (a complex Duchess of York) and Rose Riley (as the grieving Lady Anne wooed by Richard) are true and strong.
As also dramaturg, Kate Mulvany’s edit makes vivid theatre, even if the play’s action and lengthy denouement finally seems encumbered amongst that dark furniture. Composer Steve Toulmin and Michael Toisuta on sound help tune our engagement; and thankfully Mulvany’s Richard has the last word.
Photographer: Prudence Upton