Theatre: Ugly discontent - why, that will do nicely, sir

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The Independent Culture


SPORTING A hefty hump, a stout corrective shoe, a Max Wall-like wig and a disfigured paw that makes him look as though he is slowly turning into a werewolf, Robert Lindsay's Richard III would certainly merit the expression "differently abled".

His entrance at the start of Elijah Moshinsky's new RSC staging is embellished with a somewhat literal-minded piece of spectacle. Thick drifts of snow descend on to Rob Howell's imposing design of vast, receding Gothic arches - the psychic "winter of our discontent" registered in picturesquely climatic terms, with a dramatic improvement in the weather after that famous first couplet. It's a touch that makes you feel it's not just the hero here who is clod-hopping.

The production, I'm glad to report, swiftly raises its game. The stage is V-shaped, an arrangement that allows Lindsay's charismatic, northern- vowelled Richard to hobble forward to its apex and establish both a leering, collusive intimacy with the audience and an ironic distance from his dupes. It's a performance that revels in the Machiavellian monarch's sheer outrageousness and capacity for limping rings round everybody.

The grotesque bad taste of the wooing of Lady Anne (Rachel Power) over the corpse of the father-in-law he butchered is, for example, drolly heightened here. Lindsay's Richard doesn't wait for her to get off stage before launching into his scornful, self-congratulatory speech. Eyebrows cocked, he delivers it over her shoulder in the brief respites between her neurotically intemperate kisses.

Great curtains of steel chains symbolise the oppressive trap of Richard's tyranny, plummeting to the stage with an unnerving crash at the start of the final battle. As the number of Richard's victims mounts, the production disappointingly does nothing to underline visually how they are part of the same pattern: the stealthy fulfilment of Queen Margaret's prophetic curses.

To compensate for this, there's a bold rearrangement in the last act. Instead of visiting Richard in a dream in his tent on the eve of Bosworth, the ghosts of his casualties wait to intervene and distract him with counsels of despair in his climactic sword fight with Jo Stone-Fewings's squeaky- clean Richmond. The spectres of the young princes jump with demonic playfulness on Richard's shoulder and pop up between his legs. The transpositions give graphic emphasis to the idea that it is the recognition of what he has done, rather than Richmond, that defeats him.

The final tableau of the virtuous victors kneeling in prayer on the battlefield and receiving the sacrament is nicely darkened here by the unnoticed return of Anna Carteret's impressively vehement Queen Margaret. It reminds us that here we see both a beginning and a rather less lovely end.

The production uses a heavily cut text, but it has a gripping straightforwardness, a freedom from the kind of "concepts" that betray directorial boredom, some incisive verse speaking (especially from Sian Thomas's Elizabeth) and a magnetic central performance.

To 14 Nov, 01789 295623