Review: Richard III, Rose Theatre, Kingston ★★★★☆

Photo: Manuel Harlan

by Christopher Day.

Bridgerton star Adjoa Andoh dominates this new production of Shakespeare’s Richard III in more ways than one – she both directs it and stars as the titular king.

Her Richard is manic, switching between calm struts around the stage and frenzied outbursts of emotion where she speaks so quickly you struggle to keep up. And despite the despicable acts her character commits, you still feel taken in by her recklessness and knowing grins.

As Richard schemes her rise to power, she’s joined by Buckingham (Joseph Kloska). He’s almost equally crazed, though his over-the-top mannerisms come with a great sense of comic timing, too, and further humour comes from Cardinal Bouchier’s (Robin Morrissey) cameo appearances.

In contrast, the female characters bring the play crashing back down to earth, as we’re reminded about the brutal consequences of Richard’s actions in causing numerous deaths. Queen Margaret (Liz Kettle), the Duchess of York (Caroline Parker), Elizabeth Woodville (Rachel Sanders), and Lady Anne (Phoebe Shepherd) are all played superbly, with a sense of solemnity that is necessary in an otherwise surprisingly jolly production.

The programme explains that Andoh was hoping to show Richard’s ‘otherness’ through race, rather than disability, but another physical characteristic stands out even more clearly in this production. Andoh is the shortest performer on the stage, with her small stature brought out by the physicality of her encounters – most obviously, during a tussle with Edward IV in the reconciliation scene. In a play set in an era when height and strength were important on the battlefield, and which ends with a scene at the Battle of Bosworth Field, this is a telling detail.

This is an eclectic production, with exaggerated characters and some out-there choices in other departments. Events are depicted as taking place in the West Country, with accents to match, and Amelia Jane Hankin’s set shows events occurring around a few trees, bringing us close to nature. Benjamin Grant’s sound design and Chris Davey’s lighting move us smoothly from empty, almost haunting countryside, to other, seemingly happier, days.

But alongside that are more mysterious elements – sci-fi-esque music that plays on multiple occasions, matching white tunics and trousers for all the characters, an early morris dancing scene with a song based on the ‘now is the winter of our discontent’ opening line, and a bizarre last couple of scenes that we won’t spoil here.

How much you’ll enjoy this production will depend in large part on how you see these more peculiar touches – whether you think they add to the drama, or add in unnecessarily silliness. But Andoh’s stunning, charismatic performance as both director and performer helps it cohere and ask fascinating questions of the play.

Richard III is at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, London until 13 May.

Christopher Day is currently studying for a PhD in modern British history at the University of Westminster. He enjoys watching theatre, reading literature and following Stevenage FC. You can find him on Twitter @ChrisDay96.