I'm not sure what I was expecting of Richard III. The little I knew about it before tonight was a vague knowledge that Richard was the tyrannical hunchback king, who had murdered (allegedly) his nephews in the Tower in order to become king, and was recently found buried under a car park in the Midlands. Not a very nice man. I was expecting a lot of politics and military to-ing and fro-ing.
However what I got at the People's Theatre was so much more than this. I got a well produced, brilliantly directed political thriller with a sprinkling of dark humour.
The stage set is minimalistic. A backdrop screen onto which images would be projected (woe betide you if your picture appears on the screen - you are not long for this world!), several suspended trellis screens, and some very dramatic lighting - blood red. Just enough to to add to the drama, but not distract in any way from the words. The costumes are modern and mostly monochrome - the men in suits, the women in black dresses with splashes of colour. It works incredibly well.
As we take our seats, Richard sits on the stage. He waits and when we are all settled and ready, he launches into his first speech - it's conversational. conspiratorial, he talks to us, includes us from the start in his plans. We, the audience, get to see hear what he is thinking and planning while the other characters only see what he chooses to show them. He is intelligent, quick witted, yet rejected and ridiculed. At best dismissed as a cripple by the court, at worst abhorred and shunned by his mother. And this rejection is the spur to his ambition. He seeks to prove his true worth, and take revenge against those who have slighted him by becoming King himself and having power over them all. Naturally to do this he must remove the obstacles of the current king, his sons and his wife and anyone else who gets in his way. Colin Jeffrey plays Richard with humour and humanity. I was expecting a tyrant, a power seeking murderer. I did not expect a likable, sympathetic character.
The play unfolds to show the treachery of all the courtiers. Each one is deceitful, and self serving. Is Richard any worse than the others? He may have a black soul, but they have helped to blacken it as the play progresses the body count rises and Richard descends slowly into the darkness of paranoia and distrust. No-one is safe from his knife.
So much is said with a glance or a gesture - dissemblance, plotting, conniving and treachery. Excellent performances from all of the cast but particularly, in his first leading role, from Colin Jeffrey and Kevin Gibson as the Duke of Buckingham - who had me convinced he was one of the good guys at the start! (you quickly discover there are no good guys in this play!)
A great production. Richard III runs till Sat 12th March.