THEATRE / Finding the right gesture: Richard III - Manchester

Jeffrey Wainwright
Tuesday 17 May 1994 23:02

As George Steiner has written, it is those elements of drama belonging to 'the universal language of eye and body' which translate best. Although the English fixate upon Shakespeare's language, stage-business, both humorous and melodramatic, accounts for his international success.

Still, Steiner also calls these features 'superfluous matter'. And - despite the fact that Richard III is packed full of such superfluity - much of the interest in seeing the play returned to us in translation must be to tell us how much we miss the language.

Actually, Mihai Maniutiu's Romanian production, brought to the Dancehouse by Manchester City of Drama, denies itself the play's most famous visual - Richard himself. Marcel Iures' king is a tall, slender, even feminine figure, and it is this that enables him to dominate a masculine world of his opposites.

He is surrounded by a phalanx of Kurosawan guards, heavily plated, implacable and devoted. The grist of an unrelievedly militaristic world, they are first seen sleeping in obedient dormitory rows watched over by Buckingham, and there is something touching in the incongruous domesticity with which they take up their bed-rolls to follow Richard's murderous way. Breathing and grunting together, they are like a huge dog to their master.

But the canine image is more emphatically employed by giving Richard a Fool with a wolf's head. Here is his alter ego, his rabid animal nature. True, the work of the words is done through the representation of Richard's savagery and slyness in this figure, but it still seems a cumbersomely obvious symbolic device, one, moreover, whose barks and growls become comically intrusive, and whose demeanour - but how were they to know this in Bucharest? - bears an unfortunate resemblance to Basil Brush.

In truth, Iures' Richard does not need such extrapolation. This Richard is dangerous because of the sniggering glee with which he accomplishes his early outrages. It is not that he is indifferent to moral sense, but that he sees what he does as merely naughty.

At one point, he and Buckingham celebrate his imminent coronation by sharing an apple. This again is an overly symbolic image, but the impression of them as two boys who have come back from a scrumping exhibition is compelling, as is the way they giggle as Richard tries on the paper crown, pulling it over his eyes as though it were his father's hat.

The relationship between Richard and Radu Amzulescu's excellent, shaven-headed Buckinghan is the production's most interesting interpretative development. As he does away with his constant companion, Richard's hand is still entwined in his. The difficult but determined effort with which he prises himself free is the evening's most moving moment.

This is the kind of gesture that could never be called superfluous. But there are others that are, such as the guards' ritual dance, Richard's blazing hand, and a reliance on the excitements of fire which soon becomes routine. Although this is a strong and seriously inventive production, at such moments there is a sense of overloading effects to ballast the words.

At the Gardner Centre, Sussex University, Brighton, 18-21 May (0273 674357); then tours to Leicester (0533 539797)

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