‘Now is the winter of our discontent’, hisses one of Shakespeare’s most malevolent villains, Richard III aka Dick Crouchback, and an audience either shudders in anticipation of the evening ahead or shrugs in indifference, depending on the production. However, Rupert Goold’s new staging at the Almeida has a clever trick up its sleeve. Drawing inspiration from the discovery of the real-life Richard’s remains underneath a car park in Leicester, he begins the action at the excavation, with hangers-on and observers in the way of the white-masked figures attempting to discover history. A crooked spine is found and held up for inspection, and then a shadowy figure limps into view, as if resurrected. Welcome to a bold and innovative production of Richard III, where a combination of great director, on-form lead actor and inspired touches throughout make for a highly successful experience.
Ralph Fiennes can do malevolence, as shown by his child-chilling performance as Voldermort in the Harry Potter films. Here, he proves a masterful villain, alternating between cold calculation and livid rage. He can also do comedy of various kinds, from charm to clowning, but his Richard isn’t as funny as many others, including Kevin Spacey’s relatively recent dictator at the Old Vic. There are, of course, the usual flashes of dark comedy, and the Almeida’s small space makes it ideal for moments where he seems to appeal to the audience, but the emphasis here is squarely on brutality and violence. Women are raped and sexually assaulted; conspirators and the innocent are executed without mercy or drowned within water tubs. And above them all, an enormous crown hangs over the stage to remind Richard (and the audience) what the goal is.
Goold’s typically fluent and engrossing production sees three hours go by speedily, helped by Adam Cork’s innovative composition and sound design and HildegardBechtler’s set offers boldness and simplicity in equal measure. The standout from the generally excellent supporting cast is the great Vanessa Redgrave in what may well be her last theatrical appearance as the vengeful, wraithlike Queen Margaret. Redgrave’s reputation for eccentricity is nodded at in her attire of a boiler suit, as she wanders the stage clutching at a doll, but her verse speaking is as precise and ever, and at the curtain call Fiennes, deservedly the recipient of a standing ovation, looked as overawed as a student actor might to be sharing the limelight with someone of her calibre. (They also appeared in the film of Coriolanus that he directed, in which she played Volumnia.) All in all, then, this is a rather special event, and yet another triumph for the Almedia and for Goold.
Richard III at the Almeida until 6th August 2016. Photography by Marc Brenner. For more information and tickets please visit the website.