The thing about R3 is that it works best when the title character is played as an over-the-top hilarious cartoon — a sort of evil ain’t-I-a-stinker Bugs Bunny. What this means is that you need a Richard who is crazy, zany, hilarious, and carries the production on his hunched back. Unfortunately, the folks at Riverside Studios decided to attempt deep emotional resonance, and while they actually achieved this to some degree — the Elizabeth was absolutely amazing, especially when Richard proposes marrying her daughter and she rips him to pieces, and the elderly Margaret (played by a man!) was quite convincing as a drunken, curse-spitting old woman fallen on hard times. The guy playing Richard was actually good, spinning it as a kind of Crispin Glover thing.
Despite this, the play was just boring. It was far too somber and therefore very grueling to sit through — the last third was nicely abridged, especially the procession of ghosts, but the first two-thirds were plodding. Richard needs to be energetic and awesome in a love-to-hate-him way; the audience needs to know he’s unquestionably evil, yet at the same time really want to see him fuck people’s shit up. It simply works better when it’s a crazy Marlovian spectacle. My evidence: Ian McKellan’s Nazi-flavored 1995 adaptation, which plays hell with the source text (they all do, as R3 is ungodly long and sloppy) but it’s loads of fun and pretty damn stylish.
A more positive note about the Riverside production: Catesby was also very good. The staging was a sort of modern multinational corporation boardroom setting and they chose to make Catesby a smartly dressed young female secretary with a clipboard and a constant uncertainty about what the hell was going on around her, and who slowly realized she was both in over her head and pretty much stuck in the plot for the long haul. This worked.
On the other hand, both sides of the stage had this industrial scaffolding that, at various points in the play and for no specific reason, Richard would climb around on despite apparently suffering from palsy. I think the idea was to make him sleek and dangerous, and the acrobaticsmaybe would recall the “bottled spider” remark Margaret makes about him. A neat idea, kind of awkward in execution. SPEAKING OF WHICH: the Battle of Bosworth Field was a dance party. I am not kidding. Both sides glowered at each other from across the stage, dancing slightly while techno music played and strobe lights went off. Occasionally they staggered as if they’d been hit. It was like watching a Final Fantasy battle screen, which again was pretty neat, but within the context of the play and production completely crack rock.
And that’s all I have to say on Richard III’s Jungle Gym and Rave from Hell. On Wednesday keep an eye out for my thoughts on the RSC’s recent production of Twelfth Night. Here’s a preview: it’s also not very good!