Many would agree that Bill Shakespeare’s words are timeless, and therefore should easily lean against any modern backdrop. But to do so convincingly and with a certain degree of class is rather difficult to achieve. Harrington-Odedra also had the task of editing arguably Shakespeare’s greatest history play down to under two hours. Tackling such a beast takes courage, and I’m delighted to say that in this case the risk has paid off.
The small studio space of Camberwell’s Blue Elephant Theatre lends itself well to Lazarus Theatre Company’s production of Richard III.Audience are welcomed by the ensemble into what feels like an exclusive nightclub, and shown to their seats on any of the three sides of the thrust stage. The intimate setting succeeds in drawing the audience instantly into the frantic and electric world of the royal house of England. The production opens with lights out, dance music, and our players raving away with only a few strobes and their neon glowstick-bracelets flashing. We have arrived in the midst of a party – peace and prosperity have been restored; Edward IV is on the throne.
The only person not celebrating of course, is our villain Richard of Gloucester. Prince Plockey must be commended for his strong performance as Richard; the major cuts made to the script and the lack of any sort of physical disability or deformity do not do him any favours. In saying that, it is clear that Harrington-Odedra’s edits and directorial decisions are intentional and have not been made without deep consideration. Stripping Richard of physical dysfunction, Plockey is tasked with the challenge of winning sympathy somehow from the audience in the midst of his murderous and manipulative schemes, purely through character alone. The result is to consider the human behind the monster, to attempt to understand the heart of the character, free from the bias of perceived disability.
Plockey’s polished performance may not succeed in necessarily arousing sympathy from the audience, but his schemes and cheeky demeanour do succeed in endearing him to you. He is upstaged at times by the strong female characters he is playing opposite – however this only enhances his human qualities, and the production as a whole. Shakespeare has written some incredible female characters in supporting roles, and sadly they are all too often treated as an afterthought. Not the case here, however – Harrington-Odedra should be praised for breathing life back into the complex women of Richard III. Powerful performances from Catherine Thorncombe as Lady Anne and Roseanna Morris as Queen Elizabeth in particular, showcase the strength of the modern woman that we can all relate to.
The production oozes with dark sensuality and the stench of sex. The intimate space, cloaked in black, and intense use of lighting allow for a minimalist set – a simple, clean backdrop where we are hypnotically absorbed in to the soul of each character without distraction. The ensemble are sexy in every meaning of the word – their look, their movement, their voice – a reflection of the upper echelons of our modern society, and on this occasion, we are willingly drawn into their circle.
Lazarus’ Richard III is a bold and lusty production which has catapulted the bard’s work into the 21st Century at warp speed. If you love Shakespeare, be sure not to miss it. And if you’re not a fan of Shakespeare, you will be after seeing this production of Richard III.
Richard III is on at Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell, London, until 29 March 2014: www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk
This production was independently reviewed by Charlotte Everett: https://charlotteeverett.wordpress.com/