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Richard III

30 October 13 words: Adrian Bhagat
The Nottingham Playhouse holds the first major production of Richard III since the eponymous king emerged from a Leicester car park

Richard III at Nottingham Playhouse. Photo by Robert Day

This is the first major staging of Shakespeare's historical play since the eponymous anti-hero was disinterred from his resting place under a car park in Leicester. Although there have been attempts to rescue the last Plantagenet king's reputation from Shakespeare's very negative depiction, the production of course has to follow the character as it was written, thoroughly and irredeemably wicked. The Richard III Society may yet have to wait for the rather more sympathetic portrayal that that they would like to see.

Born with a physical deformity, Richard, the brother of the reigning king, Edward IV, finds himself something of an outcast in society. By murdering those who lie between him and the throne, slandering those who oppose him and marrying the widows of his victims to advance himself, he finally becomes king. Once crowned, the killing and double crossing doesn't stop as he tries to cement his precarious position, betraying those who helped him to power before finally facing his enemies at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

Directed by Loveday Ingram, this is quite a traditional staging, faithful to the original though performed in modern clothing. Although the performance seemed to be a little muted at first, it soon picked up as Richard's plotting gathers pace. The set is superb: stark, dark screens that serve both as castle halls and as the forbidding walls of a dungeon into which Richard enemies have been cast, accompanied by echos and the sound of dripping water.

Richard III at Nottingham Playhouse. Photo by Robert DayWhat sets this production apart is the way that the dark humour of the play has been brought out. The success of this is mostly due to the incredible performance by Ian Bartholomew as Richard. You may have seen him here a couple of years ago as the head mobster in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, a satirical allegory about the rise of Hitler. Bartholomew was brilliant then and gives a similar performance here; His performance is reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin parodying Hitler in The Great Dictator.  

Bartholomew's facial contortions and sudden changes of mood mock the foibles of the character he portrays, highlighting the his moral emptiness whilst making him human, persuading the audience to identify with the deeply evil schemer. When he is eventually crowned king, he lowers himself with exaggerated satisfaction onto the throne, as if settling down on the lavatory after a long day at work!

The battle scene in which Richard meets his end is well staged. Perhaps it got out of hand - the press performance was preceded by an announcement that Charles Daish had been injured the previous evening but he bravely continues to play the part of Clarence on crutches.

This is a competent staging of a much loved play. Although it's pretty long ( Two hours and 50 minutes including the interval) the pace and humour make the time fly past and result in a very enjoyable evening at the theatre.

Richard III runs at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 16 November 2013.

The Richard III Society

The discovery of Richard III by the University of Leicester