8 June 2017

Stunning Richard III at Arcola Theatre

I go to see quite a lot of Shakespeare and I also go to Arcola Theatre quite a lot so this production of Richard III was an obvious temptation, despite having seen a good Richard III at Almeida Theatre less than a year ago. It helped that this version had been getting good reviews, mostly for the performance of Greg Hicks, and also had Paul Kemp in the cast, an actor I knew originally from Orange Tree and who I had managed to speak to after a couple of shows.

As always, the main problem was finding a free evening and I finally managed to find a slot on a Thursday just before it closed. I was on my own, which always makes finding a decent seat easier, and I was able to get a front-row (A23) seat in one of the corners of the stage for a paltry £20.

Intimate spaces make for intimate theatre and Arcola is adept at exploiting that intimacy. Richard III is about a man driven to extremes by the lust for power and being in touching distance of that lust and malevolence was powerful and intoxicating.

Richard III is also very much about one man and so this production relied heavily on the skills of Greg Hicks and, as the quote on the poster shows, it was an excellent performance. The deformity was there but it was the constant menace that defined the character and the play.

Helping the play along was the simple and flexible set and a good ensemble cast. I was a little concerned when Paul Kemp died as Clarence (Richard's brother) at the start of the play and was please to see him return later as Stanley. The rest of the large cast, others of whom also doubled up on roles, were very good too and this was one of the significant pluses of this production.

This was my sort of Shakespeare. The story moved fluidly, the characters were distinct, the set concentrated on the overall mood rather than specific details, and the star starred.

Richard III is one of Shakespeare's more enjoyable plays (in my opinion), which is why I have been to see it so often, and this was possibly the most enjoyable production of it that I have ever seen. Other productions have had bigger budgets and bigger stars (Kevin Spacey was outstanding in 2011) but these have also had bigger stages and the intimacy of Arcola made the drama more tangible.

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