Arterial blood sprays on an abbatoir-style plastic curtain. Lumbering chorus-like figures wear masks straight out of an 80s slasher movie. Assassins despatch the hapless Duke of Clarence in a style more reminiscent of Pulp Fiction than historical drama.
Edward Hall directs the all-male company Propeller’s production of Shakespeare’s bloody culmination of the first Wars Of The Roses cycle in bombastic, violent style. A stark industrial set and ominous sound design provides the stage for the cast to play out this tale of plotting, intrigue and revenge, where each murderous act is more terrible and desperate than the last. As eviscerated guts plop into a metal bucket; or chainsaws rev up in place of the executioner’s axe, it is not a staging for the faint-hearted or the squeamish.
Perhaps the best-known portrayal of Richard is Olivier’s 1955 film version, where the character’s outer repulsiveness is a direct reflection of the blackness of his soul. Here, Richard Clothier plays the scheming monarch as a charming blonde-haired devil, his wit and charm making his hobbled deformities immaterial. At times, the almost pantomime-like villainy is laid on a little too thickly however, and his performance seems at times to be more inspired by Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham than Olivier’s Duke of Gloucester.
That said, the cast are strong; Dominic Tighe managing to convince as a melancholic Queen Elizabeth with Jon Trenchard an equally effective Lady Anne. The whole ensemble work well together too: perhaps most notably when their collective voices rise in choral accompaniment to the action, often to quite chilling effect (though a brief rock/rap segment in the second half works less well).
Teenage children can often be the fiercest of critics, and – as with most performances of Shakespeare plays studied at school – several groups are in the audience last night. Their laughter during some of the scenes which Propeller no doubt intended to be shocking is telling – there is a sense that their production of Richard III, although gripping and memorable, is perhaps trying a little too hard to stand head and bloody shoulders above the rest.
Richard III plays at the King’s Theatre until Sat 26th Feb. Times and booking information is on the King’s website.