It was a very brave decision by Omidaze Artistic Director, Yvonne Murphy simply to stage a production of this mighty work of Shakespeare, with the limited resources available to any company that isn’t the Royal National Theatre or the Royal Shakespeare Company and even they don’t always get it right. Even more brave to present the play with an all female cast and then to stage the production in the previously unexplored void in the roof of the WMC. So triple plaudits to Murphy before the curtain goes up, not that there is a curtain in this mysterious and exciting environment.
A grey hard metallic world, where death and beheadings are frequent; six hundred years on and sadly there seems to be very little change. This mass of iron tubing and large wandering steel box vent shafts, with the magnificent words delivered with such utter conviction by this strong cast provides an ideal environment for this totally captivating production. It took a few minutes to get accustomed to the unfamiliarity of the territory and the all female cast but as the passion mounted and the narrative gripped we soon forgot they were women and became absorbed by the characters and the passions being played.
This was particularly so with Mairi Phillips’ Richard who, excelled as the wicked king, triumphed in her ending in the plastic strewn Bosworth Field. Going not to heaven but to hell, she discovered an acting strength of the highest order.
She was not alone in this commitment to the truth. Lynn Hunter, like many in the cast played a number of roles, but particularly as Queen Margaret, she held us transfixed with her tales of heart breaking grief. Margaret, a role often omitted from more conventional productions, was the widow of Henry VI arguably one of Richard’s early victims to be followed by many, many more.
Clearly Shakespeare regarded Richard as the personification of evil, extending his deformities to fit the picture that Richard paints of himself in the first vividly descriptive speech in the play, “…Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,/ Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time/Into this breathing world scarce half made up.” Phillips didn’t quite catch the mood here but soon gets under the skin of the role.
A little history for clarification: England enjoys a period of peace under King Edward IV. Richard resents Edward’s power and begins to aspire to the throne himself—and decides to kill anyone he has to, in order to get there. He persuades Lady Anne to marry him. He first encounters her in the play as she accompanies the corps of her late husband, murdered by Richard to its grave, At this meeting Ana-Maria Maskell as Lady Anne is brilliantly forceful in, initially, rejecting her unwanted suitor.
He has his own older brother, Clarence, executed, and shifts the burden of guilt onto his sick older brother King Edward in order to accelerate Edward’s illness and death. Jessica Hayles brings a sensitive quality to the fatal Duke. At Edward’s death Richard becomes lord protector of England, in charge until the elder of Edward’s two sons grows up. Richard kills the court noblemen loyal to the princes, most notably Lord Hastings. Another very excellent manly performance from Alice White who also plays The Earl of Richmond, a murderer and a priest; this is an indication of the versatility shown by every member of this enthusiastic cast.
Next Queen Elizabeth, widow of Edward IV is arrested and executed. Polly Kilpatrick gives us another strong and penetrating performance. With Edward IV now dead, the elder of the two princes is ready to take the crown. Richard in his bloodiest move yet, has them both killed. He is now ready to be crowned. His mother is now cursing the womb that bore him. Bethan Morgan conveys the mother’s disappointment and bitterness superbly.
There are still more killings to be done. Richard eventually turns against his most loyal supporter, Buckingham with another well-observed performance from Vanessa-Faye Stanley like all in this first class ensemble. Such evil doings must have their comeuppance and Richard’s death brings this strong and compelling production to a close.
In was a promenade performance, it was not always easy to get a good view of some of the scenes and the lighting some times dazzled. The strong soundscape supported the action well. Despite these minor setbacks Shakespeare’s truths and the way they were told held the audience totally enthralled.