Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 24 October 2012

R-3

St. Saviour's Church ⋄ 17th October - 3rd November 2012

Resurrecting Richard III.

Tracey Sinclair

In a dark, deserted church a resurrected Richard III crawls from his grave to make a case for his rehabilitation. Surrounded by the tattered remnants of his reputation, scraps of paper from contemporary chronicles as well as the Tudor propagandists that blackened his name, he seeks to disabuse us of the lies that have besmirched his reputation. But the weight of Shakespeare presses down through the centuries, and the much-maligned king finds that he cannot shake the shackles of his fictionalised counterpart.

Tim Allsop (who also co-wrote the piece) is a sinuous and charismatic Richard; shirtless and scruffy in a dust covered suit, his bare chest adorned with scribbled phrases that continue to echo through the ages. It’s a tremendously physical performance, but not one that merely relies on showy tics; like Shakespeare’s villain, he is a consummate entertainer, keen to win us over – albeit for the opposite purpose. So he woos the audience, chatting amiably, sometimes bitterly amused, sometimes outraged, sometimes even sad; he manages to be pleasingly self-deprecating (at one stage literally crawling across the floor), but also genuinely moving, as he describes the love-match marriage that has been distorted into a connivance of convenience, his much-mourned wife transformed into a bitter figure discarded by her wicked spouse once she outlived her purpose. But at every step he is dogged by the shadow of Shakespeare, each scene viewed through the filter of that drama, even as Richard the man fights the inevitable transformation from gracious king to malevolent imp.

Allsop is well-served by his setting: the handsome interior of St Saviour’s Church needs little in the way of adornment to be rendered suitably atmospheric (though praise must got to Declan Randall for his lighting design), and usefully reminds us that in Richard’s day redemption and salvation were very real concepts. Director and co-writer Caroline Devlin crams a lot into the short running time, but at an hour long, the piece feels neither rushed nor crammed. It’s nicely paced and perfectly balanced between humour and pathos, with some great flourishes, from the panto-villain Duke of Clarence (complete with comedy sound effects) to an opening scene that so skilfully recalls a Dawn of the Dead-style horror movie that it had me, for a moment, thinking we might be seeing the first zombie Richard.

Of course this vision of Richard as loyal brother, loving son and adoring husband is as one-sided as that of Shakespeare’s bottled spider (and one with which plenty of historians would disagree), but what makes this piece so fascinating is it’s as interested in the process of creating historical inaccuracies as in unearthing the truth behind them. All kings are works of fiction, it tells us, to be murdered and born anew from one generation to the next, and the pages fluttering around the stage remind us that in the shaping of history, the pen may have more weight than the crown – though Richard takes no small pleasure in recognising that in achieving such elevation, Shakespeare himself becomes open to similar distortions and dissections.

In the year when scientists believe they may finally have unearthed Richard’s body, lain lost for so long, this production remind us we are not yet done excavating the bones of England’s most enigmatic king.

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Tracey Sinclair

Tracey Sinclair is a freelance editor and writer, a published author and performed playwright. She writes for a number of print and online magazines and most recently has focused on the Dark Dates series of books, including A Vampire in Edinburgh. You can follow her on Twitter under the profoundly misleading name @thriftygal

R-3 Show Info


Produced by Centre Five Productions

Directed by Caroline Devlin

Written by Caroline Devlin and Timothy Allsop

Cast includes Timothy Allsop

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