"Was ever woman in this humour wooed?
Was ever woman in this humour won?" Act I, scene ii
|Propeller ; November 23, 2010 Guildford, Surrey, UK|
Director : Edward Hall ; Starring : Richard III: Richard Clothier, Duke of Clarence: John Dougall, Duke of Buckingham: Chris Myles, Lady Anne: Jon Trenchard, and Queen Elizabeth: Dominic Tighe
Reviewed on : 2010-11-27 18:38:59 ; Reviewed by : Amanda Dumble
|This production of Richard III is equivalent, in its use of bodily fluids and graphic murders, to an 18 certificate horror film. It is admittedly true that I do not watch 18 certificate horror films, but a number of people who do, when I described the details of this play to them, winced. As Richard (Richard Clothier) progresses his way to the throne, murders carried out by him or in his name include: drilling into Clarence’s (John Dougall) brain after stabbing him, disembowelment complete with squelchy intestines, a chainsaw murder that sends blood splattering high up across the plastic curtains, snapping a neck complete with realistic sound effect, and the beating of an body bag which continued screaming due to a strategically placed microphone.
The staging comprised primarily of a blank stage, with metal towers to either side of the front of the stage, a metal tower hung with torture implements in the middle and an array of old fashioned wheeled hospital curtains about the stage. Approximately half way back were chained back ceiling to floor length plastic flaps, in the style of the entrance to a hospital mortuary. Indeed the whole effect of the stage was of an insane asylum/morgue, and it would have been interesting to see the play performed as the insane dance of the inmates of an asylum. The hospital curtains were wheeled around by a masked ensemble as the action progressed, moving characters into and out of scene, and surrounding them as they met their grisly deaths. The emptiness of the stage also meant that when an actor shouted, their voice echoed across the stage, adding a further layer of harshness to the noise.
The lighting further contributed to the cold and stark feel of the production, with a basic offering of cold blue and white colouration. However the lighting was also used to create some beautiful frozen moments – Richard taking a photo of the happy King Edward IV as confetti falls down upon him in a moment of frozen happiness, and Richard caught in a spotlight through the darkness surrounding him, an expression of utter hunger and desire upon his face, as the crown of England sits finally in front of him.
The feel of the staging and the cold white or blue lighting, was further enhanced by the ‘chorus’ who clad in old fashioned white medical coats and white masks and frequently brandishing weapons gave a further impersonal and menacing air to proceedings. Indeed the impression of menace spilt out into the audience where the masked figures could be found wandering the aisles before the start of the performance and wandering them again towards the end of the interval, brandishing their weapons, sitting in abandoned seats and generally offering an air of faint menace to those returning from their presumable lie-down in an attempt to recover from the rigours of the first half.
One of the primary themes of this production was, it seemed, bodily fluids. Vomit and blood were projectile sprayed across the stage with abandon in this performance, to the extent that the end of the interval was extended slightly in order to give the cast the time to clean the stage. The vows of peace between the various protagonists were sealed by the drinking of vials of each others blood. The production also seemed to be trying very hard to induce a heightened sense of nervous tension amongst its audience, with the murderers feigning with clubs at Clarence and the aforementioned masked ensemble menacing and everywhere, even past the fourth wall.
Richard Clothier was excellent in his portrayal of Richard III, unfortunately somewhat overshadowed by the amount of gore that filled the rest of the time. He moved smoothly between caring son/brother/potential monarch, offended innocent and insane power-hungry murderer, with occasional bursts of desperately needed moments of comic relief; his exaggerated expressions of ‘oh well’ or ‘hmmm what to say whilst we stand next to this body’ caused a great deal of giggling, as did his little “Hup!” noise as he bounced backwards to sit on the throne for the first time. His production of a bunch of magicians flowers with which to woo Lady Anne (Jon Trenchard) provided one of the only moments of actual physical colour in the entire play that wasn’t blood. His performance was compelling, and I feel would have been given a far greater chance to shine and stick in the mind, had it not been smothered by an unnecessary and growing pile of body bags.
Costume was relatively modern and primarily black, with the exception of hospital gowns for those who were sick or tortured, and white for the masked figures wandering the stage. There was little to no attempt to make those members of the all-male cast playing women look female, with the sole concession of wearing feminine clothes to create the effect. The reported physical deformities of Richard were cleverly built into his clothes, with a heavy amount of leather on his coat to create the hump and a metal support strapped around one of his legs. The most enjoyable costumes were those of the two murderers sent to kill the Duke of Clarence: cheeky cockney murderers the pair of them. Indeed mention deserves to go to Sam Swainsbury and Richard Frame for their thoroughly enjoyable light-relief portrayals - cheeky cockney dances combined with a slightly fraught if amused dialogue exchange as they try to work out how to kill the man, provided probably the most cheerful moments of the entire production.
The music was primarily classical and sombre. There were short outbursts of song from the masked ensemble, for example a song that gave the impression of gentle rocking provided the theme for the two young princes and the minutes prior to Richard’s coronation seemed to resemble a particularly angry and anonymous punk rock concert, with added stick banging.
The two young princes were cleverly represented in this gory production through the use of appealing and relatively convincing legless puppets, dressed well and steered around the stage and given emotion, gesture and voice by two of the masked ensemble. For a production soaked in blood, it was remarkably coy about the death of the two children, as the audience see only the two wander into their ‘bedroom’ and for their theme music to then stumble and break.
There certainly were parts of the production that I found very effective, although the overall effect was continually bleak and when humour was present, it was mostly black. As a company and as individuals who introduced themselves at the end of the play, the members of Propeller seem intelligent and not prone to indulging in shock for shock’s sake. I would certainly see another of their Shakespeare productions if it was one of the comedies. However whilst the production certainly evokes a reaction, and has some very clever aspects, overall because of the sheer horribleness of the blood and the gore and the killings, I spent a great deal of the production hoping it would finish quickly. I have subsequently spent two further evenings simply being profoundly glad that I do not have to go and see it again. As to whether this is a reaction that the company would be pleased to have, were aiming for, or should be proud of, I honestly don’t think I can say.
Edwin Austin Abbey, 1896
Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and the Lady Anne
|Guildford Shakespeare Company|
February 13, 2012
|The Stratford Shakespeare Festival of Canada|
August 20, 2011
November 23, 2010
February 15, 2010
|Chicago Shakespeare Theater|
September 30, 2009
|Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama at Bute Theatre|
April 1, 2009
|Classic Stage Company|
November 9, 2007
|Lupine Event at Project Artaud Theater|
October 19, 2006
April 29, 2006
|Royal Shakespeare Company|
>> next reviews