First published in The Times, Monday March 26
Some Richards are so grotesquely charismatic that they overwhelm everything else onstage. This was the case with Lars Eidinger’s performance as the Machiavellian prince in Thomas Ostermeier’s acclaimed production of Shakespeare, which stopped off at the Edinburgh International Festival a couple of years back. The German actor exploded the stage at the Lyceum with a raucous turn that included berating members of the audience and enticing the entire house into chanting along with his most profane lines.
The experience was never less than entertaining, but there is equal virtue in subtlety, as Lu Kemp’s new production for Perth Theatre demonstrates. The show features a magnetic performance from Joseph Arkley as a black-clad Richard, emerging almost imperceptibly from the shadows in the opening scene to set out his villainous stall, his outcast’s eye fixed dispassionately on the rest of the House of York. His deformity is so innocuously rendered that we barely notice it at first, and Arkley’s understatement makes the murderous events that follow far easier to swallow. This Richard hides in plain sight within his family, allowing him free reign to plot and scheme under the radar.
Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
The actor is deft at turning on a sixpence between ingenuousness and letting the mask slip, gently enfolding the audience in his plans. His restraint extends to the rest of the production: the curtains that swish back and forth across Natasha Jenkins’s stark set may be bright red but we see no blood across the stage. When the young princes are murdered, their final strangled breaths are relayed to Richard via a blood-curdling recording, to which he listens with barely a flicker of emotion, compulsively replaying for emphasis. It is a horrible moment yet it also serves to underline the character’s utter isolation, even as he achieves the ultimate prize. For balance, Kemp includes plentiful incidences of black comedy. The tyrant’s ostentatious embrace of religion in advance of his coronation is very funny, not to mention queasily resonant.
Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Arkley is the linchpin of a fine ensemble, with Kemp giving due prominence to the supporting roles, notably the women of the York family. Mercy Ojelade is compelling as Lady Anne, who falls under Richard’s spell, while Alison Peebles also makes the most of her role as the powerful, regretful dowager. Meg Fraser brings righteous anger and compassion to Queen Elizabeth, striving to save her one surviving child from joining the body count. The final scene at Bosworth Field is a little underwhelming and under-populated but this is a minor complaint about a precise, polished production.