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Richard III at Southwark Playhouse

Allan Taylor for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Richard III is one of Shakespeare's classic history plays; the tale of a wretched king who kills anyone and everyone in his path on the way to the throne, including his two nephews.

The Tudors, of course, did not mind Richard being portrayed in such a light because it was he who Henry VII defeated to succeed the throne and he is, therefore, the personification of the Tudor villain.

Approaching Shakespeare is a difficult task as the text has been analysed, deconstructed and performed so many times that it takes something truly special to make it stand out. Tangram Theatre have thankfully spared us the 'modern day interpretation' and stayed true to the text, showing that Shakespeare can still be fresh and faithful. However, textual accuracy means that the production has to be shaken up in different ways.

The staging is in catwalk, with the audience sat either side of the production, producing a medieval effect, and in the Playhouse's temporary home in Shipwright's Yard, there is definitely a king's court feel to the piece. The innovative use of Darren East's puppetry to stage the death scenes provides a novel spectacle as well as a necessary convention that means the audience do not have to bear witness to characters over-dramatically clutching for their last breath.

Outstanding performance from Valerie O'Connor as the grieving Anne and the Duchess. She really pours her heart and soul into the role and makes it seem as real and tragic today as it was 500 years ago. Clara Onyemere and Aicha Kossoko also give the performance an ethereal edge, making the audience believe the mysticism of Shakespearian curses can still hold true. John Lightbody manages to maintain a strict demeanour throughout and never lapses in his interpretation of the lead role which opens up the slimy yet slightly pathetic character Shakespeare painted for us.

Dan Goldman has put some of his famed choral speech in there which worked to full effect in his direction of Kane's 4.48 Psychosis, but I'm not sure this approach has been used to the same effect here. More rousing voices could have been used on the lead up to the battle, but its result seems to waiver instead of mounting tension. There also seems to be a lot of 'banging for effect' from trapdoors and boots that, instead of surprising the audience, can lead to being irritating as the transparency of the conventions leave little of a 'surprise' element. However, the honesty of the performance and sticking to the integrity of the text provides an interpretation that is contemporary in all the right ways.

Overall, an enjoyable and watchable interpretation of a renowned work. This is a great play for those who like their Shakespeare done on the rare side of modern. It's definitely worth seeing to evaluate their unique staging and their approach to theatrical conventions. The good thing about this production is that they have managed to keep Shakespeare interesting without having to ruin the text in the process. I applaud Goldman and O'Brian for working within the framework and producing a classic piece with a slightly contemporary edge. It's a versatile production that will appeal to the casual theatre goer and people who know their Tyrells from their Tybalts.

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