Richard III

Date: 12/04/2023

The national press are at the Playhouse in force and Richard III feels like another important statement of intent from the new Everyman Playhouse leadership team of Suba Das and Mark Da Vanzo. With a cast swaddled in rough-hewn yokelish outfits and with accents to match, this folk horror-tinged reimagining of Richard III comes after Adjoa Andoh’s acclaimed and similarly gender-bending Richard II. The Bridgerton star tackles one of Shakespeare’s best-known schemers, including some of the best-known lines. When “Now is the winter…” is rendered in unsettling folkish singing it’s a fascinating introduction to a production that is certain to be bold, surprising and challenging.

In the programme Andoh questions whether the Duke of Gloucester’s otherness – perhaps the most famous example of getting the hump in theatre – might work if the lead character is black. It’s an interesting question and when the Everyman tried this trick with Golda Rosheuvel as a black, female, gay Othello it lent a whole new perspective to the Moor.

It does not feel especially so here. Perhaps there are reflections, inferences but they’re either too infrequent to really build a sense of it – or they’re lost in the dense text. Andoh’s Richard is impish, unhinged, wheedling – terrifying in his amoral ability to wormtongue to a position that benefits him, whether it be the widow of a man he has just had killed, mother of children he’s had offed or Joseph Kloska (excellent) as Richard’s eager accomplice Buckingham.

Andoh’s Richard is often openly amusing and, in spite of the chaos he creates, not entirely unsympathetic. But despite the almost-all-white cast (Clive Brill as Hastings is indisposed so Assistant Director Harriett O’Grady gamely fills in) there’s no sense that the titular character is viewed differently because of his disability, the thing that marks him out as other.

Andoh’s Richard is impish, unhinged, wheedling – terrifying in his amoral ability to wormtongue to a position that benefits him

What the play does have is a modern resonance, given a rub by the collapse of the Conservative Party in 2022 into plotting, factional warfare and regicide. It’s not hard to picture Andoh running amok in the halls of Westminster or Westeros. “England hath long been mad and scarred herself,” comments Daniel Hawksford’s Richmond, bringing some calmer notes to the mayhem, and we might allow ourselves a wry smile.

Some lovely model and lighting work, occasional eerie musical asides and an extremely stark set combine to give the production the feel of paganish terror to frame the bloodletting, but it combines head-on with a reading of the text that, while faithful, feels determined to wring the humour out of it too.

Playing Shakespeare is obviously not easy. The cadence, the meaning, the text, (all the bloody text – the best part of three hours here)… it’s all a bit ‘this one goes up to 11’. As Andoh heads towards her destiny in a Leicestershire car-park it’s unclear what we’re to make of it all. There’s plenty of intriguing, on-trend stuff to enjoy in Richard III even it it seems reluctant to give up its puzzles.

Richard III
Liverpool Playhouse
Until 22 April