A review by Bernie Whelan for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Love and Madness Ensemble present

Richard III


by William Shakespeare

Directed by Ben Kidd

The Tower of London

1 - 2 April 2011


What a coup to finish a tour of Richard III in the Tower of London, right where Shakespeare set the action, a site specific theatrical event so imposing and atmospheric it had the audience buzzing with excitement as dusk fell and Yeoman Warders marched us to a Tudor style upstairs theatre space with seating on all sides. The space isn't ideal, wooden pillars obstruct the action and the lighting is blinding at times but the cast weaves constantly around the room so that it is impossible not to be drawn in, particularly when Richard's machinations send a series of victims to The White Tower, looming over the action through the windows with all the nightmarish weight of British state power.

Richard III is one of Shakespeare's most Machiavellian characters, a power hungry Prince made  cunning by physical deformity, who succeeds in clearing all obstacles in his path to the throne by murdering nearly all his close companions including his own brother and nephews (the infamous Princes in the Tower) and by lying and cheating to sow dissent between the houses of York and Lancaster under cover of hypocritical professions of virtue and piety. Yet Richard has always thrilled audiences with a combination of maliciously witty asides and sheer bravado, making him a strangely attractive and seductively crafty player in the corrupt world of politics where moral viciousness is a means of advance. 

Richard is most energetic in his pursuit of power when it is most distant, thriving on the frisson of evil each monstrous deed generates, loosing motivation and purpose and plagued by nightmares when the crown is his.  Iarla McGowan's Richard conveys all of this with unstoppable verve and confidence, his Northern Irish accent somehow lending an extra layer of political intrigue to this contemporary production, where the suits and clipboards, backroom deals and mobile phone assassinations are strongly redolent of the politics of New Labour. Battle scenes are frighteningly physical, with phantom combatants assaulting the actors who grasp at the audience occasionally for support so there was no lapse of concentration on the front row.

The eight strong cast double up to play all roles, David Hughes inventively managing to play the assassin Tyrell and his victim Rivers in a convincing murder scene. The heart-rending scenes where Madeleine Hyland's noble Queen Elizabeth mourns the death of the King and then, her murdered sons, the Princes, build towards the most enthralling battle of one liners between her and Richard, played with hypnotic intensity by both actors. Nicholas Kempsey's extraordinary portrayal of the old Queen Margaret, who warns them all against the 'bottled spider' and predicts the damage he will do like a Greek oracle nearly stole the show, but in a cast of compelling actors, Iarla McGowan's performance was utterly mesmerising, which is only right and proper as this is Richard's play.


The Tower of London

Waterloo East Theatre

Box Office: 020 7928 0060


Copyright © EXTRA! EXTRA All rights reserved