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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!




Scrawny Cat Theatre Company Present


Richard III

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Charlotte Ive

Puppets designed and built by Jo Lakin

Music and Soundscape compsed, created and performed by Elizabeth Graham

Costumes designed and created by Lars Van Riesen, Alex Bergeron and Olivia Negrean


The Rose Playhouse, Bankside


1 - 26 April 2014

The Rose Playhouse gets in your bones, and I don’t just mean the eerie creeping cold which lends its portentous touch to every performance therein. The unique atmosphere and exiting sense of secrecy which comes from watching floorboards tread on a platform above illuminated Elizabethan foundations is unparalleled by any theatre space in London, and I would conjecture, the world over. The Rose Trust encourages and preserves its special status and incites interest in and support for the ongoing restoration project through a keenly chosen, excellently produced programme. The site-specific, all-female cast Richard III currently playing there is a truly fine example of this unwavering vision. Using the space with equal helpings of reverence and ambition this production depicts Shakespeare and England’s famously despised, power-drunk monarch from an entirely unique perspective.

A cappella operatic vocals echo through the cold, dark ruins as a female figure (Elizabeth Graham) holding a candle traverses the periphery of the foundations and occasionally pounds a deep drum. All costumes hang on the rail which separates the performance area from the archaeological site and all costume changes take place in full audience view. A black cloak with silver detail is worn by whichever actor is playing Richard at any given moment. The arrival of female characters is denoted by the donning of simple wraparound skirts. Richard’s allies and enemies make themselves known through various hats, embellished waistcoats and sashes. The transparency and immediacy of this mode of costume change has the potential to confuse or exhaust but smooth, swift changes under tight direction ensure it instead encourages immersion.

The complex character of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and later King Richard III is explored from a fascinatingly distinctive perspective in this production, exclusively acted by women. His latent insecurities, malice, manipulative prowess and ultimate fearsome remorse are explored, encouraging a broad spectrum of interpretations. A particular significance, for example, pours out of Richards’ famous diagnosis that all at court goes awry when “men are ruled by women”. His wooing scenes are also afforded a sinister, sensual touch that I have never witnessed in a male Richard. In the command of the different actors his traits are played out with varying intensity; Charley Willow excels as Richard at his most emotionally manipulative, Marie Rabe at his vain outbursts, Rosemary Tross commands his angry, tormented episodes.

The tragic children of the piece, the Princes of the Tower and the deepest threat to Richard’s pursuit of the crown, are represented effectively through simple puppetry, high voices and squares of material. A creepy lurking likeness of Richard III opens and closes the play and several of the victims on Richard’s trail of destruction are represented by cloth, while death lingers in the form of an occasionally produced red rag. These puppet creations of Jo Lakin bring yet another dimension to this already multifaceted production. Of the wonderfully colourful exchanges of insults between Richard and Queen Margaret, widow of King Henry IV, not a word is lost, elevating some of Shakespeare’s most memorable descriptions to even more memorable status.

Watch this singularly Machiavellian monarch relentlessly pursue the power which is certain to overwhelm him in this distinct and affecting production while you can. Benedict who?                                       



The Rose Playhouse, Bankside
56 Park Street
London SE1 9AR
+44 (0)20 7261 9565


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