Richard III at St Paul’s, Covent Garden
This was a deliberate and considerable change from my other Shakespeares so far. This production was a promenading one, through the grounds of St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden. No stars in the cast (Martin Freeman is starring in another production currently on at the Trafalgar Studios, which seemed over-priced, and the preliminary reviews, kind though they have largely been, have backed up my belief that Shakespeare would not be his natural metier), and a ticket price to match – at £17.99, the cheapest so far. (It might be interesting to see what the most expensive will be – and when and why! Auditor me is adding a new page to the spreadsheet right now…)
A work friend put me on to it – they are a trustee of the charity who did the production, and their husband did the lighting. And a friend of mine from school happened to be in the country at the time, so they came along with me and my housemate.
It has been an unbelievably hot week or so in London, and this gave the production its first memorable note – sweatiness. The actor playing Richard (David Hywel Baynes – I’m getting this from the programme – though the whole cast was memorable, they were all unknown) started off with lank, greasy-looking hair – by the end of the night, it, and he, and his costume except for the fake hunch, were wet through (thank god he carried a large hanky). The sweatiness was evenly matched with the spitting (some deliberate – go Lady Anne! – and again, Richard would have been grateful for the hanky…) which may have been a result of the need to project quite far to ensure everyone in the garden could hear (it was a good turnout though, for a boiling Thursday evening). On the whole they did astonishingly well – the only scene where I remember not being able to hear some of the dialogue was the dream sequence near the end, and none of it is really that memorable/important.
It was a small cast, which led to memorable note number 2 – doubling-up. I love this, albeit as a meta, not-quite-in-the-moment type thing, and there was plenty of it going on. The only person who didn’t double was Richard. We had King Edward and Stanley played by the same person, Lady Anne and Prince Edward, Clarence and Buckingham (unlucky actor, he gets murdered twice!) and most memorably and brilliantly, Mark Hawkins as Catesby, Queen Margaret (with terrifying ginger wig and bulging eye) and then as handsome Richmond. His playing of Margaret was mesmerising (and what opened the play – they started with the three Sons of York murdering Edward of Lancaster and being cursed by Margaret, traditionally the end of Henry VI) and gave a rather different feel to the whole thing – this sense of a malevolent curse, rather than just the malevolent will of Richard III, being behind the actions on stage.
Memorable note number three has to be the staging in toto. It was a promenading performance, although they sensibly kept the number of moves relatively low, and they were well handled in terms of timing (both breaking up the action and fitting with the flow) and in terms of no-one breaking character (although it helps that Richard III breaks the fourth wall himself so often). At one point I walked past Richard and he touched me on the shoulder and I actually shuddered. To be fair, the hand was surprisingly cold given the weather (I wonder if it was the one he had bound up – we were concerned about the long-term likelihood of cramp/circulation problems…). Both my companions also managed to get themselves smeared with Kensington Gore, which was being liberally splashed around – but even so, were weren’t talking Titus Andronicus levels of blood!
The lighting was really well done, given it had to cope with the move from daylight to night-time over the course of the performance. The props were minimal in a good way – the only ones that really stayed in the mind (apart from Margaret’s wig and Richard’s hanky) were the throne, surrounded by large poles and a bit like a blue version of the iron throne, and the cage in which Richard decided to spend the night before the battle – largely I think because it allowed him the chance to writhe and move a lot – the actor was good, but clearly loving hamming up the limp and the whole performance (not too far, just far enough – Richard is a pretty hammy guy, especially when he’s talking to the audience).
My school friend had just been reading the Rivers of London books, so they loved the setting (the first book takes place around St Paul’s, and has a plot point involving Charles Macklin, whose plaque we could see inside the church). We were only mildly disturbed by the crowds thronging the street entertainers outside the church. And the coke I had in the interval was warm. Otherwise, I’m not sure I had any complaints to make…
No Guardian review, so here’s one from “what’s on stage” http://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/reviews/07-2014/richard-iii-review_34935.html