This modern adaptation of Shakespeare's classic tells the story of Richard III's rise to power and tumultuous downfall: after ruthlessly pursuing the ultimate position of ruler of the land, Richard's dastardly deeds leave him friendless, and his throne weak. 

The first thing to say is that this specific adaptation, while perhaps obvious, is utterly inspired in its execution. Directed beautifully by Dan Edge, the starkly familiar contemporary political setting (underpinned by brilliant use of news bulletins throughout) is especially relevant in light of recent and looming elections, and the original text has been brought up to date with exceptional creativity. A broader understanding of what 'death' could mean in the political landscape sees politicians losing their places in cabinet (though this needs a little more clarity when first discussed), which adds drama to the piece and makes Richard's dalliance with actual murder even more disturbing. Another excellent substitution was using "sword" to mean pen - the potency of words as a weapon is rather an underlying theme of the entire production. Finally, as discussions about appropriate casting and the portrayal of Richard's physical deformity have been rife in recent years, this interpretation takes a masterful approach of using descriptors as words used in the press to define the titular politician. 

Adrian Jeakins' creative technical direction is extremely impressive (there are some disappointing phone sound effects, but probably only noticeable due to the high standards of the surrounding tech!) - a breaking news bar constantly updates the audience on the political shuffling taking place throughout, which could otherwise be confusing for first-time viewers, and Sunset Boulevard-esque live streaming takes place throughout. This production feels alive and present. The cast don't appear to use microphones, which for the most part works well, but if you are going to commit to this then everyone must be able to reach the back of the auditorium with their words.

Andrew Laidlaw's set itself is simple, with a BBC newsroom hiding at the back and the ceilings of Westminster at the fore. Will Lake's lighting expertly separates spaces and creates tension when needed. A rather large disappointment is the very noisy set changes of rolling tables - completely distracting from an otherwise very polished set up, and makes the ongoing action difficult to follow. 

This is a long play, and perhaps could be edited a little further, though notably, it does not feel like it drags, other than a lovely but a little over-indulgent music-backed montage towards the close of the play (which perhaps could have been an appropriate ending). 

The cast tackles the Shakespearean text with mixed ability (still a very high amateur standard), but their leader, Sam Sugarman, gives a brilliant performance as Richard III. He takes on the role with confidence and understanding, shining in moments of blind rage and his character's descent into manic paranoia. 
Audrey Lindsay is an outstanding Buckingham, bringing articulate perfection with the most gorgeous command of the stage and Shakespeare's language. And Karina Zakharyan gives a fantastically understated Catesby, never over-indulging in their subtle omnipresence and careful manipulation throughout the play. 
Frustratingly, there seems a lacking of chemistry between any two characters except Richard and Buckingham, which would really take this production to the next level, along with more emotional dynamics across the narrative. Richard's characterisation is brilliant as a political figure but needs more depth. From the very start, he tells us that he is evil, and we could certainly do with a more ruthless sinister villain at the heart of the story, to make his charming ability to slither to the top all the more infuriating. A greater sense of character development would be welcome, too - an emotional range evidently within Sugarman's talents. 

Overall an interesting production showcasing some excellent talent, Richard III is worth catching at the Bridewell Theatre until 18th May. 

Author: Penny Lane