Saturday, 26 August 2017

REVIEW: Richard III at the Temple Church

Site specific theatre adds an extra dimension to the pleasure of seeing good productions and Antic Disposition specialise in exploiting this added audience engagement in their choice of plays and locations .On this occasion following a UK cathedral tour and a short French tour, they have bought their edited updated version of Richard III to the Temple Church tucked away in the tranquil setting of Inner Temple Hall and Gardens, just off Fleet Street in central London. 

The Temple Church, built by the Knights Temple in the 12th century provides a beautiful medieval setting amongst the memorials and effigies of the Knights for the play. Using a traverse stage running from the circular Knights Temple end to the more modern alter end with the audience sat along each side in pews. As a result the audience is very close to the action and often drawn in as aldermen or men at arms and we catch every facial tick and glance.

The staging is simple, one end of the traverse serving as the Royal Court for the various kings and the other a ghostly mortuary of those characters that have been murdered observing the court, joined by a simple red carpet . The lighting is straightforward in deep red, blue and white light washes but as the play progresses strong dark shadows are cast against the Church walls. James Burrows has created a subtle haunting choral underscore for the production which enhances the atmosphere in the church, most noticeably when the swirling organ music signals the death of Edward IV. 

Of course any production of Richard III is dependent on the central portrayal and Toby Manley is excellent. With an arm in a black sling and a twisted foot that causes him to limp, he charms, schemes, rants, seduces and verges on the edges on madness throughout. He engages the audience with winks and smiles and we see the veins in his forehead throb as he rages. His voice echoes in the vaulted church ceiling. 

He is well supported by a cast of 10 in particular the pivotal ladies, the prophetic Queen Margaret, (Louise Templeton), the delightful Lady Anne (Bryony Hooper) and the strong Queen Elizabeth (Jess Nesling). The last two double less successfully as the princes in the tower. They are a match for Richard and ultimately bring him down. 

The play has always been a metaphor for political evil. As the programme notes,
even in Shakespeare’s time the audience would have recognised Richard as Robert Cecil, the Queen’s long serving councillor. It is almost unnecessary to update the play to modern dress to emphasis this point of political control of fake news by autocratic despots but it does give the director a couple of good sight gags with a choice of teddy bear or Xbox for the Princes, the Mayor of London holding a Starbucks with Boris written on it and security guards looking like they are with the US president. 

All these elements come together in a stripped down easily accessible, entertaining and enjoyable production which encourages you to look out for future offerings from Antic Disposition.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★
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