One of the many joys of this play is the sheer delight Richard takes in his own villainy – he’s barely able to keep the glee from his voice as he confides his diabolical plotting to you. Deceit, flattery, murder and fratricide – there is nothing Richard won’t do to carve his way to the crown.
This performance of Richard III is co-production, marking a partnership between Hull Truck Theatre, Northern Broadsides and Hull City of Culture 2017; a northern collaboration for a northern king – and Mat Fraser’s blunt and dryly humorous Richard is definitely a northern king.
Catherine Kinsella plays a shell-shocked Anne, browbeaten rather than wooed by Richard over the bloody corpse of her father-in-law, the first in a line of powerful women (and men) to fall victim to his ruthless ambition.
Flo Wilson’s Margaret is mesmerising as a grief-stricken harbinger of doom, while Ruth Alexander-Rubin’s Queen Elizabeth twists a raw grief that is almost painful to watch into a vengeful taunting of Richard when he has the audacity to ask her to woo her daughter for him. Threaded through Frasier’s brutish Richard is a strong sense of comedy; while his plans may be deadly serious, he delivers many of his scenes with a wry sense of humour, acknowledging to us the dark and sometimes ridiculous playacting he needs to undertake in order to achieve his aims.
Jim English and Deano Whatton, also lighten the murderous tone – a veritable “Tweedledum and Tweedledee”, who deliver posturing, petulant princes and conscience-stricken murderers with perfect comic timing.
However, this performance’s most engaging scenes are delivered at the end of the play. Here, we play voyeurs to Richard’s single flash of conscience, before he casts it contemptuously aside determined to live (and die) by the cast of a fate he has forged from the start of his opening soliloquy. Like Richard, this performance chooses a strident ending, bowing out with vibrant, vociferous battle scenes, which are full of sound and thunder. The die may be cast, but Frasier’s Richard is not going down without a fight, and Ben Wright’s energetic and vengeful Richmond is just the man to match him.
The final joy of this play is the way it can be placed in any political, social or historical context and its universal themes of power, deceit and ambition resonate and take on new meaning. A contemporary climate of a ruthless, yet apparently charismatic, leader determined to seize power whatever the cost – sometimes real life can be just as terrifying as any Shakespearean tragedy…
Richard III plays at the Hull Truck Theatre, Ferensway, Hull, until Saturday May 27 (Box Office 01482 323638) and Halifax Viaduct Theatre from May 30 to June 3 (Box Office 01422 250250).