When the newly crowned monarch gives the finger during his coronation, you know trouble ahead is guaranteed from a clown prince gone dangerously off-message. This is exactly what happens in the second half of Lu Kemp’s youthful-looking production of Shakespeare’s most out-there history play. And when Joseph Arkley’s Richard raises his be-gloved digit from the throne he’s been craving since the beginning, it’s a punchline of sorts to every shaggy dog story he’s set up before then.
Arkley’s Richard cuts a lanky and malevolent dash from the off. Sporting military great-coat and a sneer, he never over-plays his opening ‘Now is the winter of our discontent’ speech, an easy to parody routine too often laced with hysterical verbal and physical tics. Arkley’s approach is more subtle, setting the tone for a quasi-contemporary reading of the play with a manner that moves between Jack Whitehall style goofiness and the deadly gallows humour of Dave Allen.
As dignitaries jet in and out of view to pick up the pieces and take stock, Richard employs a gang of shell-suited gangsters led by Michael Dylan and Martin McCormick’s blood-happy double act, who are all too happy to doff their cap as they do Richard’s dirty work. Pulsed by the cracked foreboding of Stevie Jones’ brooding sound design, it’s telling how the scarlet drapes of Natasha Jenkins’ abstraction-peppered set keeps things increasingly out of view from the likes of Meg Fraser’s breathlessly explosive Elizabeth and other dissenters.
The Spartacus moment when Richard gets his come-uppance in the play’s final scene may suggest unity, but in the end it shows how power works. Moreover, it shows how those craving it will cling on to the coat-tails of any ideology that will give them a leg up, however broken that ideology might be.
The Herald, March 26th 2018