Richard III: one of Shakespeare’s least likeable villains in one of his longest history plays. But just as Milton secretly preferred Satan to God, so an audience secretly revels in watching a real bastard ruin the lives of those around him.
All credit to director Natalie Holden for weaving a darkly exciting ghost ride through the bloody Wars of the Roses. Some of the play’s more tedious elements have been sensibly streamlined, emphasising supernatural fatalism at the expense of political motifs. On a limited budget and making full use of the OFS’ winding balconies and stairways, this is an unexpected but satisfying interpretation.
Jack Chedburn gives a blistering performance of manic intensity, his Richard stripped of sympathy or austerity and whittled down to a core of deformed energy. He is Clockwork Orange-esque, a cunning delinquent writ large as a king, with touches of poetic psychosis and a deluded grandeur that grows ever darker and more directed after his coronation.
Rather than failing to match classic portrayals of the role like Olivier or McKellen, Chedburn’s anti-majesty is perfect for a student cast, yet still capable of subtlety and flashes of humour even as his machinations collapse around him.
The other outstanding performance is Flossie Draper as Queen Elizabeth, who is a powerful counterpoint to Richard’s excesses: one almost believes that the kingdom rests on her shoulders, not his. Their exchange of anger in Act IV is magnificent and a surprising highlight before the play’s climax at Bosworth Field.
The rest of the cast are solid enough, particularly Charlotte Bayley as Anne, who oozes crushed worthlessness in Richard’s devilish games. Ed Boulle’s Buckingham is a slick and attentive spin-doctor, and Max Hoehn a capable King Edward, although his illness was rather overwrought. I must admit, though, that I had little sympathy for the murdered Clarence’s daughter Margaret, played callously by Alice Hamilton.
But forget a few teething criticisms: there are two excellent performances leading a fresh reading of the play. This is an electric, vital Richard III hard-wired for modernity.