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Friday, August 12, 2016

Ralph Fiennes as Richard III

I just saw Richard III starring Ralph Fiennes last night.

It’s an incredible production, and you should go see it.

This production, which just completed its run at the Almeida Theatre in London, is being distributed around the world in cinemas.

You can find showtimes and tickets here:

I am not a professional theatre critic, but I want to share with you some of my thoughts about this great production.

I have never seen a more complete and balanced production of Richard III. The acting is superb, there is not a weak link in the acting ensemble, and they explored the characters more fully than the productions I have seen before.

I must give particular credit to the actresses - to Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Margaret, Susan Engel as Richard’s mother the Duchess of York, Aislín McGuckin as Elizabeth Woodville, and Joanna Vanderham as Anne Neville.

I have never seen a production that gave as much emphasis to these characters, and the actresses all rose to the occasion. Each of them had moments that just about stopped the show, and stole the scene away from every other actor, even Mr. Fiennes. As a result, they provided a much-needed emotional counterbalance to all of the evil that these men do. 

Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Margaret
Susan Engel, on the left, as Duchess of York
Aislín McGuckin as Elizabeth Woodville
Joanna Vanderham as Anne Woodville
But of course, the play belongs to King Richard III, and Ralph Fiennes did not disappoint at all. He was marvelous.

There are precious few actors who understand how to make you believe that they are evil.

Mr. Fiennes really specializes in this, what with his roles in Schindler’s List, as Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies, and even as Hades in the Clash/Wrath of the Titans movies.

But I have never seen him more evil before. He was truly scary.

I think this is his greatest performance by far. He wasn’t just camping it up as some sort of preening villain, twirling his mustache.

He was charismatic, and funny, very funny in fact, and that made the evil within the character come out even more.

The Richard III character is one of the most fully dimensional characters in world literature/theatre. He has so many sides, it is hard to grasp him. He is so slippery, like an eel (or a toad) that you can’t catch him.

Ralph Fiennes clearly understands this very thoroughly. He embraces the character so fully, without any reservation. Most actors pull punches when performing the crookback King Richard. Not Mr. Fiennes — he throws his punches fast and hard.

As great as his performance is — truly a historic accomplishment for him, for theatre, and especially for the greater history of Shakespeare in general — it cannot be accomplished alone. He must have great actors to play onstage with him.

And in that respect, Rupert Goold found and directed an all-star team of actors.

James Garnon, on the left, as Hastings
James Garnon was the most moving and compelling Hastings I have ever seen. Mr. Garnon has made a real name for himself, especially at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I saw him as Caliban in their production of The Tempest, and he really redefined the role.

Finbar Lynch as Buckingham

Finbar Lynch is a wonderful Buckingham. He was equally good (meaning despicable) as one of Richard’s most willing co-conspirators, as he was when he finds himself somehow growing a conscience. 

Scott Handy as Clarence

Scott Handy is one of the best Clarences I have seen. He is suitably pathetic. Clarence’s murder is meant to shock our conscience, and the murder in this production is the most frightening I can recall.

I do think it is a mistake to cut out what I think is Clarence’s most important line. When his murderers come to kill him, he insults them by saying that he is royal and they are not. Shakespeare’s original lines are meant to make us, the audience, dislike him. As odd as it may seem, we are supposed to want him to die, and enjoy watching his murder.

This gets to the heart of the play. We are supposed to sympathise with Richard III and enjoy watching him kill off his enemies, and the obstacles in his path to the throne.

For an otherwise very balanced and faithful production of the play, Mr. Goold put his thumb on the scale too heavily with this one edit.

The tone of the play was excellent, and while at times it was dark and gloomy, it was also funny more than I expected.

I have written quite a lot about how Richard III should be classified as a comedy rather than a tragedy. It is a very funny play, and it has never been performed with as much humour as it should.

Mr. Fiennes brought out much of the humour, and he could have gone much further with it. But what he did do, in exchange for more comedy, was to add a level of malevolence that is extraordinary. This production is not for anyone who needs safe spaces, and whose emotions are too easily triggered.

I don’t want to give anything away, but this Richard preys as much on the women as he does on the men.

It is always a pleasure when the actors in modern productions of Shakespeare break the fourth wall, and speak to the audience, and involve the audience. It is all too rare, especially when you consider that all of Shakespeare’s plays, especially when he wrote soliloquies, are really conversations with the audience.

I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but there is a fantastic moment where Mr. Fiennes engages the audience. The choice of moment is brilliant.

I strongly recommend this production. If you can find it at a cinema near you, you should not miss it. I doubt you will see a better version, or a more nightmare-inducing King Richard.


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