Adjoa Andoh gives a towering performance in the title role – but the production feels a touch muddled.

(c)Manuel Harlan

Aside from Henry VIII, one of the monarchs who has fascinated me the most is Richard III – was he villain as much as he was painted? How much involvement did he have in the disappearance of the two princes? or was he judged in a bad light because of his appearance alone? In Adjoa Andoh’s refreshing but slightly muddled new take on Shakespeare’s play – she examines the character as an outsider who wants his own fair chance at life but of course uses increasingly sinister approaches in his attempt to fit in with his family.

Adjoa’s production has an almost folksy vibe to it that brings to mind another Shakespeare play – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, through Amelia Jane Hankin’s beautiful set design and Maybelle Laye’s costumes there is a feeling of lightness and attention to detail to the production that is surprising in contrast to other versions of the play I have seen. It is clear throughout, this is a production that is trying to make it accessible to everyone – and in many ways it does succeed. But on the other hand the addition by drawing on the humour can also take away some of the necessary darkness and Richard’s increasing obsession with control and power as well as the main outlook the main interpretation of why Richard goes down the path he does. As the show goes on this interpretation seems to battle against Shakespeare’s play.

The use of music and songs throughout the play is very clever and enhances the poetic quality of Shakespeare’s language beautifully while adding to a haunting atmosphere and increasing tension with the help of Chris Davey’s striking lighting design that is paired well with way in which the more violent aspects are showcased – makes for chilling viewing.

For the most part the production flows along nicely and although towards the end of the first act the energy levels seem to slacken slightly it is always engaging to watch the story unfold thanks to the compelling performances from the cast. At its centre Adjoa Andoh as Richard III is a strong and intriguing performance, really understated in the way in which she highlight’s the character’s manipulative and sly approaches. But her touches of humour as well as the way in which she uses her body and facial expressions means you can’t take your eyes off her – she manages to convince us that perhaps there was a different Richard III then we would expect.

But she is surrounded by strong support including Rachel Sanders who delivers a charismatic performance as Elizabeth Woodville – highlighting the character’s strength in adversity with great power, while Phoebe Shepherd is equally powerful as Lady Anne. Liz Kettle makes for a fierce Queen Margaret, bringing chills with her mesmerising speech cursing all those around her.

This might not be the perfect production of Richard III but it is refreshing and compelling in unexpected ways. It just needs to draw out the main message that this interpretation hoped to focus on a little bit more to make it feel less muddled.

By Emma Clarendon

Richard III continues to play at the Rose Theatre until the 13th May 2023

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


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