'Richard III' review – Michelle Terry is a brash and predatory king in this darkly comic production

Read our review of history play Richard III, now in performances at Shakespeare's Globe to 3 August.

Isaac Ouro-Gnao
Isaac Ouro-Gnao

Richard III marks the latest collaboration between director Elle While and Shakespeare’s Globe’s artistic director Michelle Terry, who takes the lead role here. Their staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream last year was hilarious and chaotic but struggled to balance humour with the more dramatic themes – and Richard III follows suit.

Terry’s Richard, always sporting a dry smile, slinks around the stage observing his brothers and family members, plotting “lies well steel’d”, and scheming their murders to grab the throne for himself. Her portrayal is charismatic and skilful in her ability to draw out laughter from the audience in every scene. She is especially brilliant during Richard’s coronation, appearing in a white-and-gold skintight jumpsuit and hip-thrusting with a dropped jaw like an Elvis impersonator.

Other characters join in on the fun. King Edward IV (Sarah Finigan) is a riot as he forces members of his royal family to swear their love for each other, to which Hastings (Catrin Aaron) and Rivers (Em Thane) embrace one another in an exaggerated, insincere manner.

Helen Schlesinger’s Buckingham is another standout as Richard’s partner-in-crime – after an inspiring speech praising Richard, he manages to convince the standing crowd to bow to their new king.

There are also amusing comparisons to Trump with the use of red caps with ‘R III’ embroidered on the front in celebration of Richard’s kingship, showing a glimpse of commentary on modern abuses of power. E M Parry’s designs add a whimsical layer, with costume moving through eras – from elaborate Edwardian gowns through to 1970s-styled brown leather jackets and khaki trousers.

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But all these elements add a busyness that takes away from the more nuanced and darker themes in the play. Despite Katie Erich’s best efforts as the widowed Lady Anne, scorning Richard for his evil deed (“Get thee to hell!” is both screamed and signed in BSL with equal force), Terry’s satirical take on Richard does little to match the emotional weight of the scene.

A lot of the build-up to this production involved a backlash around Terry’s casting in what many think of as a disabled role; the real-life Richard III had scoliosis, after all.

In fact, this adaptation cuts most of the dialogue referencing disability and opts for a loud, brash and predatory Richard, focused on making the audience feel more repulsed than interested in what drives his scheming – the jewel jockstrap tucked between his legs as he invades Queen Elizabeth’s personal space was an odd choice in a high-stakes scene.

This constant reliance on comedy creates an unfortunate distance between character and audience. I found myself observing each murder with little emotional reaction, to the point of feeling no payoff or resolution when Richard is finally stopped by the rebelling Richmond (Sam Crerar).

But, for the most part, Richard III offers up stinging comedy at the hands of a talented and diverse cast, guaranteeing a laugh even during its darkest moments.

Richard III is at Shakespeare's Globe through 3 August. Book Richard III tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: Richard III (Photos by Marc Brenner)

Originally published on

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