REVIEW: Richard III at Cambridge Arts Theatre - Tom Mothersdale is a charming villain who completely gets away with it

PUBLISHED: 09:14 25 April 2019 | UPDATED: 09:39 25 April 2019

Richard III will be at Cambridge Arts Theatre

Richard III will be at Cambridge Arts Theatre

Archant

Tom Mothersdale is a definitive Richard III, charming, disarming and very, very funny.

Tom Mothersdale is a definitive Richard III, charming, disaarming and very funny.

If it were not for his constant asides to the audience we would not know what a duplicitous creature Shakespeare's villian was. Even though he admits every single killing and tries to make a virtue of it.

At the start of this production by the Headlong Theatre Company, instead of beginning with the famous opening line: Now is the winter of our discontent, we see Richard kill the Lancastrian King Henry VI, allowing Richard's brother Edward to claim the throne. So the pun “sun of York” refers not to Richard but to his brother King Edward IV - whose demise Richard will arrange later.

In the next scene, Anne, wife of Henry VI's young son (another Edward) and therefore daughter-in-law to the murdered king, laments the death of both of them and curses the hand that did it.

Richard admits to the crime straight out - no false modesty here - and says he did it for love of her, Anne.

He then gives her a dagger asking her to kill him saying her loathing has killed him anyway. He is a dead man now. She has brought him to tears, he who has never cried before, despite all his various family tragedies. “I killed your husband to provide you with a better one”. By the end of the scene, she has agreed to marry him.

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Despite wonderful imagery, this early play, written at the beginning of 30 years of Shakespeare's triumphs, is not the easiest to make fun. There is no subplot where yokels parody the agonies of the principals, no little scenes of comic relief by porters or grave-diggers.

The play is entirely about Richard. Designer Chiara Stephenson's set for Headlong of a circular stage surrounded by mirrors works perfectly because the other characters are a reflection of Richard's skill: how he can manipulate, conquer and destroy.

This is not to undermine the solid support from Heledd Gwynn as both the virtuous Lord Hastings and the vassal Ratcliffe, Eileen Nicholas as Richard's distraught mother, the Duchess of York, and Derbhle Crotty as Elizabeth Woodville, the mother of the little princes (his brother Edward VI's children) who wicked uncle Richard has murdered in the tower. “Let me marry your daughter and I'll replace your children with grandchildren.”

The mirrors become windows through which we see the growing group of ghosts haunt him - cheering at the end as the evil Richard is slain at the Battle of Bosworth by Henry VII, the first Tudor king who happened to be the grandfather of Shakespeare's queen, Elizabeth I.

This is a clever production, gory and visceral but altogether lightened and made glorious by Tom Mothersdale who proves an adept “lover and a villain”.

Otherwise neither he, nor the real Richard would ever have got away with it.

Richard III is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, April 27.

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