Currently being performed in the stunning twelfth century Temple Church, Antic Disposition’s Richard III is fast-paced, entertaining and has many compelling moments, but is a somewhat uneven production.

I greatly enjoyed Antic Disposition’s hugely imaginative reworking of Henry V, which toured various cathedrals earlier this year. Directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero bring the same inventiveness to Richard III and transplant Shakespeare’s play about the end of the Wars of the Roses to the modern day, but to my mind this attempt is somewhat less successful overall. The contemporary setting works well in serving to emphasize the timelessness of the play’s key themes – the dangers of tyrannous and impulsive leadership. But some of aspects of the staging felt gimmicky and over the top: a hapless Major of London in a blond wig and blue rosette lacked subtlety; some of the social media allusions were too intrusive; and the princes, in hoodies and baseball caps, failed to engage any sympathy.

Toby Manley’s Richard III was intriguing. The initial impression was that his Richard would be too light-weight, too “cheeky-chappy” for Shakespeare’s ultimate villain, but his menace grew convincingly with the success of his political machinations. He was particularly compelling in the second half, when he fully exploited the remarkable acoustics of the venue. Of the supporting cast, most impressive was Louise Templeton as an imposing and tragic Queen Margaret. William de Coverly was an engaging Clarence and a suitably sinister Tyrrell, Charles Neville was convincing in various roles, and Joe Eyre was a very (at times, excessively) exuberant Buckingham.

Many aspects of the staging were highly effective: the ominous presence of the ghosts of Richard’s victims facing the throne throughout the play, the atmospheric music by James Burrows, and the stylized staging of the Battle of Bosworth Fields. A production worth seeing (if not unmissable) not least given the magical locations.
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