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My overriding impression of the Players’ new production is amazement at their audacity in putting it on. Richard III is a big play, a famous play, and it needs actors who can step up to its demands. These include settings ranging from battlefield to dungeon and a wide array of characters from bitterly raging matriarchs through touchingly naive children to more than one ruthlessly power-crazed feudal lord.
The programme notes tell us this is one of Shakespeare’s early plays but the most interesting thing about Ian Parkes’ bold production is its demonstration of how modern the play is, anticipating film with its many and varied settings and predating modern psychology by hundreds of years. It portrays a breathtaking array of personality types conceived at a time when the first theatres in England since the Romans were only a few years old.
Chris Stanley as Richard is in his element as the arch-schemer of the Middle Ages, choosing most refreshingly to portray him as a genial sort of chap who just happens to be completely ruthless. This forces us to look at this character anew; wasn’t this what feudalism was really all about, being top dog? The difference here is that his Richard has that most modern of spin-doctor’s weapons, charm.
An array of similarly experienced actors and some newcomers fill in the rest of the picture. Gina Martin is utterly convincing as the embittered and implacable Queen Margaret, while Pauline Fowler is marvellous as the disappointed and distressed Duchess of York.
Sarah Stanley is a multi-dimensional Lady Anne, accepting her role as political pawn with dignified resignation. Lewis and Tom Stanley continue their dynastic tradition by giving a dignified and touching reading of the doomed “princes in the tower”.
Stuart Goodwin is delightfully sleazy as the cellar-rat assassin, while young Nick Baker gives him a run for his money as his fellow murderer. I shall look out for him in future productions. David Stonehouse manfully takes on the crucial role of Richard’s principal henchman the Duke of Buckingham whose career neatly illustrates the rewards and risks of the feudal power game.
All in all a rousing night out.
Richard III runs in the Garrick Studio until Saturday (October 27). For tickets go online at www.lichfieldgarrick.com or phone the box office on 01543 412121.
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