The Tragedy of Richard III - Black Box Theatre Company
Peter Hawkshaw Review


The eight actors of the last of Shakespeare's history plays were not daunted by the very small audience on its opening night at the Pauper's Pit. In fact, the characterisations of the many roles were often very special and showed the human face inside the script.


We were introduced very quickly to the fascist, Machiavellian Richard, followed by the sorrowful, easily led Lady Anne and then the mad, cursing, prophetess, Queen Margaret.


Using a minimalist set enclosed on three sides by a wire cage, a table and stage blocks (which were re-arranged in the dark, by the players, between acts), the performers unravelled the horrific story of the amoral, Richard, Duke of Gloucester and his ruthless plans to become King of England.


Apart from Richard himself, all the actors in the company play multiple roles and remain on stage at all times, standing silently behind the caged area, visible, but 'off-stage'.


The company adopted a modern idiom through which to present the play; Lord Hastings is played by a female (the dialogue modified accordingly); we were pre-warned that the performance would contain a gunshot!; Richard wears a black suit, shirt and tie; Clarence is garrotted rather than drowned in a barrel of wine and photographs were taken of the murdered victims as proof of death. This worked very well indeed and, for me, rejuvenated the play from its traditional view.


One aspect of this which did jar a little was the 'modern' element in the coronation ceremony (You'll know what I mean when you go to see the play). Although it was interesting the way Richard 'turned down the sound'!


Another innovative aspect of the performance was the company's interpretation of the script. It was often appropriate and occasionally very clever. Richard's opening soliloquy, which would normally have been delivered on an empty stage, was performed with other characters present, acting as an audience. Their cheers and applause to each phrase gave the speech an immediate clarity which would not have been achieved otherwise, to an unprepared audience. Cleverly, though, Richard's asides, at the end of this speech, which were meant for the audience alone, were 'whispered' under dark lighting. Very effective!


As I have said, most of the main characters were presented as real and understood people (not often the case in performances of Shakespeare's plays). My favourites were Richard's two henchmen, Tyrell and Ratcliffe! Thugs dressed in brown shirts and military peaked caps, they sloped furtively on and off the stage. Very convincingly played by two females!


Finally, Peter Hawkshaw gave a brilliant portrayal of Richard. His authority on stage, enhanced by his crutches and the effective use he made of them is memorable. On a number of occasions we could see into his dark eyes and knew that there was no mercy there!


Martin Wood


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