Richard III, The Globe, London

Richard woos with a killer's smile in an all-woman cast
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The Independent Culture

When Shakespeare's Richard III woos Lady Anne, it's initially an uphill struggle for him. He is, after all, the killer of her husband and her father-in-law, whose corpse plays gooseberry during this oddest of seduction scenes.

In Barry Kyle's fine new "original practices" revival at the Globe, there's another potential obstacle. The performer playing Richard is a woman. So Kathryn Hunter has to exercise sorcery over Anne, who has to believe that her seducer is sincere, and over the audience, which has to believe a woman can play a male murderer. On both counts, Hunter succeeds admirably.

In this year's season at the Globe, where half the plays are being performed by an all-male company and half by an all-female, Kyle's straightforward, entertaining, if perhaps insufficiently evil-haunted production of Richard III exudes quiet confidence that the non-naturalistic, single-sex convention of the Elizabethan theatre will work just as well when the gender is switched.

Playing down the grotesquerie, Hunter's Richard is a nippy little black sprite who skips about the stage with her crippled leg thrust forward. She seems to have developed quite a fan club among the groundlings and while she is quick to respond with amusement to their interventions, she has not yet developed the ease to work her spontaneous reactions into her characterisation.

In the soliloquies, she could underline more just how badly Richard needs the audience as an outlet in a world where he is essentially alone. The cross-dressing, though, gives added zest to the idea of Richard as the gleefully unscrupulous role-player.

Caught in a politically stage-managed tableau of pious devotion, Hunter's antic and often nicely understated would-be monarch is hilarious, feigning unworldly reluctance as the entire theatre pleads with Richard to take the crown.

With an all-female cast there is always a slight danger of the proceedings resembling a girls' school play. But the principle is excellent. There's always been a contradiction between the plays and the Elizabethan practice of banning women altogether. The Globe's Season of Regime Change spiritedly redresses the balance.