Richard III, Thu 18th July 2019
Everyone loves to hate a bad guy. And it’s a special kind of wickedness, one thinks, which would lead a king to murder his own young nephews in order to stay on the throne. But that’s exactly what we get in Richard III, a Shakespearian tragedy based on the real-life Plantagenet king and his alleged real-life nefarious activities, brought to life this evening at the delightful pop-up Rose Theatre.
The term ‘Machiavellian’ is often used to describe Richard III. But while Machiavelli in his work The Prince prescribes a calculated approach, advocating sparing cruelty as a tool for an aspiring politician, Shakespeare’s would-be king is truly gratuitous with his savagery. William Mannering’s Richard, villainously velvet-caped and kyphotic, limps through the corridors of power, using a heady mix of brash charm, dissemblance, capricious childishness, and unrestrained brutality to reach its highest echelons. Mannering skilfully brought out the humour from Shakespeare’s prose, but without the Machiavellian coolness that might have lent more gravitas to the character’s more sinister moments.
I particularly enjoyed the performances from Damien Matthews (Buckingham) and Grace Cookey-Gam (Duchess of York), as well as the fine young local actors Alfie Arnold and Dylan Wallington, who played the princes in the tower, mastering a poignant style blending princely, proud, and guileless.
The costumes and textiles were notably beautiful. The stage was large, open, and woody, which made for great scenes when it was full of characters. In particular, the battle scenes towards the end were bold and energetic, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the rest of the performance would have been like if it had similarly pushed the boundaries of metaphor and imagery a bit more instead of staying somewhat safe and traditional.
The idea of a local Shakespearian pop-up theatre, surrounded by its own 'village' with places to eat, drink and be merry, is special and exciting. It means you don’t have to travel all the way to The Globe in London—and with Blenheim Palace gardens as a backdrop, why would you? All in all, a difficult play rendered well in unique surroundings.