First Night: Warped monarch made glorious by magnetic Lindsay

Richard III RSC Stratford
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The Independent Online
THE LAST time Robert Lindsay and director Elijah Moshinsky worked together, it was on Cyrano de Bergerac, the comic tear-jerker about the swashbuckling soldier-poet whose life is driven by the need to compensate for his enormous schnozzle.

By a nice irony, the psychic injuries inflicted by disfigurement - this time with altogether darker consequences - are again central to the teams latest project: an RSC staging of Shakespeare's Richard III.

The production opens with a somewhat literal-minded coup de theatre. Thick drifts of snow fall onto Rob Howell's imposing design of vast gothic arches - the "winter of our discontent" registered in picturesquely meteorological terms and with the weather undergoing a dramatic improvement after the hero's first couplet.

Sporting a hefty hump, a stout corrective shoe, a Max Wall-like wig, and a disfigured hand that makes him look as if he's slowly turning into a werewolf, Lindsay's charismatic, northern-voweled Richard would certainly merit the expression "differently abled". In the first half, the pleasure comes from watching the comic wiliness with which he runs, or rather limps, rings round people.

The stage is V-shaped, an arrangement that allows Lindsay to waddle forward and establish both an intimacy with the audience and an ironic distance from his dupes.

It's a performance that infectiously enjoys Richard's outrageousness. The bad taste, for example, of his wooing of Anne (Rachel Power) is heightened here by having him deliver the self congratulatory speech "Was ever woman in this humour won? etc" not after she has safely exited, but over her shoulder, incredulously in the intervals between her crazed kisses.

The production makes bolder rearrangements with the text than this. Instead of visiting him in a dream in his tent on the eve of Bosworth, the ghosts of his casualties wait to intervene in his climatic fight with Joe Stone- Fewings's Richmond. The murdered princes clamber on his back and pop up between his legs.

The point seems to be that it's the mental torment of recognising what he has done that defeats him rather than Richmond. Lindsay compellingly traces the King's decline from cockily leering audience-ogler to despairing cackler at his own fate.

Too many RSC shows have, of late, traded in the kind of outlandish interpretative ideas that betoken directorial boredom. This Richard III is perhaps too heavily cut to make it an ideal introduction to the play, but newcomers to Shakespeare who see it on its tour to Woking, Cardiff, Bradford and Bath will be enthused by its gripping straightforwardness and by Lindsay's magnetic central performance.

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