Richard III, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon<br></br>Alladeen, Barbican, London

Goodman? Well he's not half bad

Even by the standard set all those years ago by Tony Sher in Richard III - hopping, crawling and scuttling on his black crutches - Henry Goodman's Richard is lavishly disabled. A built-up shoe, kinky straps around his back and legs, a wonky arm and, for God's sake, a strawberry birthmark and bad teeth! Goodman also elects to play him as a prattling, rolling-eyed maniac. During the soliloquies his eyes bulge, whites showing all around the black pupils, the prosthetic teeth click into a grin and you think: Blimey, it's Gromit!

As if the bodycount wasn't high enough, this Richard kills a dog during his very first speech, and during the final battle he offs a hapless messenger. Mummy, he's a very bad man. But he's meant to be a Renaissance prince, not Uday Hussein. Actually, Sean Holmes has elected to set the bloody saga in the Edwardian era, and the effect is undeniably stylish. But as with all strong readings, some things work, others don't.

It's the world of Poliakoff's The Lost Prince. The grave, washed-out children in their Eton uniforms, pinafores and sailor suits, make you think of the doomed Grand Duchesses and the Tsarevich of The Turn of the Screw. The prison scenes reek of institutional horror, rather than medieval caprice: cavernous brick walls, the shadow of the noose and officious uniformed officers (Well, guv, if you want to murder the dook, it's more'n my job's worth to stop you). Tyrell (Toby Dantzic), the man commissioned to smother the princes, is a prissy, baby-faced clerk in a neat bowler. The Earls are portly aldermen in dove-grey frock coats. Edward IV is a sad old gent in a wheelchair. All of this makes a sort of sense.

But set against all this decorum, the gibbering Duke of Gloucester is a mysterious anomaly. Never mind his royal connections, Richard would have been walled up like the Monster of Glamis. Setting this play centuries after human emotion was bred out of the royal family makes a nonsense of it. Can you imagine Queen Alexandra running amok in the nursery with a hatchet?

The belief, shared by most of the characters, that the royal blood is somehow supernaturally sacred (not, interestingly enough, by Richard, who makes very little of his bloodline) doesn't work, post-Cromwell. Nor, post-Henry, does Richard's baroque Catholicism, when, caught at his (fake) devotions, he initially refuses the crown. And if it's 1910, why does Hastings have his head cut off? It's lugged on by a freelance executioner in a bloodied apron, and presented as a kind of moody fit: Oh, he just chops people's heads off, he does. Because he likes it.

The royal women are all magnificent, though: the ancient, screaming Margaret of Anjou (Sheila Reid perhaps slightly overdoing the French accent, but it's a nice touch); Maureen Beattie's Queen Elizabeth, unravelled by the deaths of her children, then forced to kiss their murderer; Cherry Morris's Duchess of York (Richard's implacable mother); Lisa Stevenson as Lady Anne struggling like a fly trapped in a web until Richard's plots immobilise her.

Goodman's Richard remains a puzzle. He's not very funny and he's not very frightening. Crucially, there's none of the thrilling complicity with the audience that Richard should have. There's a curious literalness in the delivery of the soliloquies: I haven't seen so much "acting out" since the days of the great Pan's People. (Terpsichorean goddesses of the Seventies, they mimed and clumped along to hit records: "I" - they'd point to their chests - "love" - they'd draw a heart in the air - "you" - they'd point at the camera.) Hence, when Richard says, "Shine out fair sun," he points at the spotlight, and "that I may see my shadow as I pass," he points at his shadow. It's very tiresome.

After the interval, things hot up. Richard, having won the crown, doesn't know what to do with it. The name "Richmond" starts to be bandied about. Sadly, "Tomorrow in the battle think on me" - the scene where Richard's ghostly victims appear to him in a dream - is strangely unemphatic, almost embarrassed. But the war scenes are splendid: lots of shrieks, guns, bangs, flashes and nice uniforms. And Sean Holmes pulls off a wonderful MR James shudder for, of all things, the hoary old line "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!"

Alladeen, a technically dazzling devised work by Motiroti and The Builders' Association for the BITE season, takes as its springboard the premise that young workers in call centres in India are trained to be perfect fake Americans so their customers have no idea they're talking to someone in Bangalore rather than Buffalo. When selling internet upgrades to a punter in Chicago, you're supposed to go: "Hey, your team's doing great! And how are you enjoying that wonderful weather you got there?"

The recruits ditch their Indian names for Phoebe, Joey, Monica and Chandler, and strive to eradicate "mother tongue interference", or the tendency to say whatewwer instead of woddever, when dealing with "another stoned American".

It sounds like McWorld, but actually it's more Bob Hoskins and "It's good to talk!". "You need to work on your clichés," says one tutor kindly. They've certainly taken this to heart: after the straightforward call centre scenes, there's a baffling closing section, set in London, featuring an umbrella, a red phone box and the sound of pouring rain. London, huh? How are you enjoying that dreadful weather you got there?

'Richard III': RST, Stratford-upon-Avon (0870 609 1110), to 8 November

Comments