Review - Richard III at the Alexandra Palace Theatre
John Haidar’s Richard III is the inaugural show at the newly restored Alexandra Palace Theatre, its boards for the treading once more after an 80-year hiatus. This is a worthy setting. It has the feel of a Roman coliseum or a Medieval church with its great walls baring naked brick and plasterwork. The cavernous theatre seems to exude history, despite its recent makeover, which magnifies the pathos of this deliciously dark production.
The longest of Shakespeare’s history plays, Richard III is a famously ambitious undertaking for any director, who must guide their audience through many characters, kings and murder plots. England is in the grips of civil war, and when King Henry VI (John Sackville) is defeated at the Battle of Tewkesbury, he is imprisoned in the Tower of London where Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Tom Mothersdale) kills him. Richard’s brother Edward (Michael Matus) succeeds the throne, but Richard makes it his bloody mission to take the crown, mercilessly dispatching anyone who stands in his way.
The set is minimal; seven mirrors lining the back wall and, suspended from the ceiling, a decagon of LED lights that glow white, blue and yellow at moments of impact, and an alarming red each time a knife pierces flesh.
These flashing lights are accompanied by bursts of sound like an electric shock. The entire play glitches in and out of modernity like this, and it works. The tradition of Shakespeare’s play is respected whilst given a creative, high-tech edge that enhances rather than distracts from the essence of the play.
When used as looking glasses, the mirrors are important symbols of Richard’s duplicity. But as Richard is haunted by the ghosts of his adversaries, they turn into translucent screens – one for each of Richard’s victims – and become the gateway between this world and the next.
Nowhere is the grandeur of the theatre more evident than in the coronation scene. Choral song echoes ceremoniously as the solemn scene is perfectly framed within this great hall.
Mothersdale gives a truly accomplished performance as Richard. Not only does he guide the audience through a number of lengthy monologues, but he skilfully draws out both the gravity and the dark humour of Richard’s deceptions. He frequently breaks the fourth wall with eerie and irresistible glee, the pleasure he takes from his Machiavellian game a palpable energy in the room.
The chemistry between Mothersdale and Stefan Adegbola as Buckingham is buoyant, so that even in their heinous deceitfulness these characters have an undeniable charm, like two mischievous children one can’t help but adore.
Derbhle Crotty is a formidable Elizabeth, striking a balance between the majesty of this queen and her utter brokenness when her husband and sons are brutally murdered one by one. Eileen Nicholas is full of passion as Richard’s mother, and the scene in which she gives her vengeful speech to him is a terrifying, hair-raising display of matriarchal fury.
This is an excellent production that fully exploits the dark humour of this extraordinary play. It is a skilled marriage of the old and the new, and the powerful ending perfectly signs off what is a great dramatic achievement.
Richard III tickets are available now.