Robert Tanitch reviews Richard III at Trafalgar Studios, London SW1
Jamie Lloyd, artistic director at Trafalgar Studios, very rightly, is keen to attract new and young audiences and what better way to do this than to cast Martin Freeman, star of The Hobbit, as Richard III.
It is a great pity the production should be so disastrous. Taking as his starting point Shakespeare’s opening lines, “Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun of York,” Lloyd updates the action to the 1979 winter of discontent.
But the update doesn’t make sense and his production is seriously hampered by a permanent cramped office setting with multiple desks which give the actors very little space to manoeuvre.
It would have been better to have had a bare stage than this ugly clutter. The legendary cry, “My kingdom for a horse!” is a joke in this context.
Martin Freeman’s understated homicide is always intelligent and crystal clear; but you never feel you are seeing the consummate virtuoso villain Shakespeare created.
The high spot is a scene which is not in the play. Richard personally kills his wife, Anne, with the help of a telephone cord. The murder takes a very long time and is acted to the background noise of a banging lift door unable to close. It feels like a sequence out of a Hitchcock movie.
Young audiences, coming to Richard III for the first time, would be far better off watching Richard Loncraine’s witty and very accessible 1996 film, available on DVD, which stars Ian McKellen and is set in a 1930’s Fascist Britain.