THEATRE / Bowed, but mostly unbloodied: Rhoda Koenig on Sam Mendes' production of Richard III for the RSC, now transferred to the Donmar Warehouse

FACING her father-in-law's murderer over his corpse, the Lady Anne draws back a shroud to demonstrate that his wounds indeed stream a reproachful red, as they 'open their congeal'd mouths and bleed afresh'. But the gore is an anomaly in Sam Mendes' production of Richard III, which gives us a rather bloodless version of the 'bloody king'.

THEATRE / Diary: Greatness thrust upon him: Simon Russell Beale played Richard III as a humpback and paid for it with a slipped disc. Which gave Ciaran Hinds just over a week to step into his shoes . . .

'BARBICAN: Terry Hands, in a black bomber jacket, kneading a piece of bluetac in one hand, chain- smoking with the other, talking about Richard III. '(Shakespeare) doesn't give Richard a rest . . . Hamlet has all that Ophelia stuff, Lear's got the whole Edmund sub-plot, but Richard is on throughout. With the terrible physical strain, of course, of sustaining a crippled position all evening.' He tells me that when Robert Hirsh did it for him in his Comedie Francaise production, he limped on alternate legs from night to night, with two sets of costumes. 'You might like to think along similar lines. I've been advised by an osteopath that irreparable damage can be done to the pelvis otherwise. It's a little known historical fact, but apparently after the original production Burbage said to Shakespeare, 'If you ever do that to me again, mate, I'll kill you.' ' From Antony Sher's 'Year of the King'.

THEATRE / Preview: Enter a new year, stage left: Sarah Hemming looks forward to another year of the American musical and the re-emergence of the left from the wings; plus dates for the diary

WITH polished productions of Carousel (National Theatre) and Assassins (Donmar Warehouse) packing them in, the musical ends 1992 with a little more swagger in its step. It's interesting to note that these, for many people the musical highlights of the year, are both American and both relatively dark in subject matter. So what will make it in 1993? In the spring all eyes will be on Crazy For You, the pounds 3m production of the huge Broadway hit which opens in the West End in March. Described as 'a new Gershwin musical comedy' and loosely based on Gershwin's Girl Crazy, it is a simple boy-meets-girl showbiz story interwoven with 19 numbers by George and Ira Gershwin, among them 'Embraceable You' and 'I Got Rhythm'. Directed by Mike (Me and My Girl) Ockrent, and with a book by Ken Ludwig, Crazy For You won three Tony Awards when it opened on Broadway last February and sent the notorioulsy hard-to-please New York Times critic Frank Rich into raptures.

ARTS / Richard the joint first: Stage Actor of the Year

IT WAS not a great year for heroic performances. The most obvious contenders were Antony Sher's Tamburlaine (at the Swan) which, besides its stunning acrobatics, brought a sense of Faustian aspiration to the Scythian warlord; and Paul Scofield's Shotover in Heartbreak House (Haymarket) which gave Shaw the tragic reverberation of Joseph Conrad. Otherwise there was Kenneth Branagh's non-patrician Coriolanus at Chichester, John Nettles's return to Stratford as an underwhelming Leontes, and Alan Rickman's Hamlet (Riverside, Hammersmith, and touring), a jaundiced outsider who gave up on revenge even before he had started.

THEATRE / On target: Paul Taylor on Stephen Sondheim's Assassins at the Donmar Warehouse

'EVERYONE Needs Opera' proclaim those ENO posters in the Underground, an assertion that is palpable nonsense. ('Homeless? Hey, Here's a snatch of Akhnaten . . .') In the last few weeks, for reasons that will be evident to readers of this page, I've felt the strong urge to go round adding stickers that ask: 'But Who Needs New Musicals?' Now, putting a stop to such thoughts, along comes Stephen Sondheim's marvellous Assassins, the British premiere of which proves an auspicious opening for Sam Mendes' regime at the handsomely refurbished Donmar Warehouse. Fittingly for the venue, it's a focused chamber piece, but in every important respect (dramatic punch; incisive musical and lyrical intelligence; cunning control of irony etc), it dwarfs the elephantine, muddle-headed hulks of 'product' recently unveiled in the West End.

THEATRE / Musicals: Knockin' 'em dead in the aisles: John Weidman, author of Assassins, talks to Sarah Hemming about staging a hit

MEETING John Weidman is something of a surprise. A neat, pleasant and alert man, he sits in the tidy Green Room of the Donmar Warehouse looking ready to offer marriage guidance or financial advice. He certainly doesn't strike you as the sort of man who might be fascinated by assassinations. Yet Weidman wrote the book (to Stephen Sondheim's music) of Assassins, the musical with which Sam Mendes is opening the refurbished Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden tomorrow night. The show, as its title suggests, deals solely with assassins and would-be assassins - nine in all, based on real people who over the years have had a shot at removing a President of the United States.
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