Richard III at Trafalgar Studios – A Review

“And therefore, — since I cannot prove a lover,

To entertain these fair well-spoken days, —

I am determined to prove a villain,

And hate the idle pleasures of these days.”


Last year, I scored cheap tickets to the Trafalgar Transformed production of Macbeth, starring James McAvoy. It was a theatrical highlight for me; and I nearly lost my mind when I saw McAvoy’s blue eyes in the flesh.

This year, I scored slightly more expensive tickets to the Trafalgar Transformed production of Richard III, starring Martin Freeman; I nearly lost my mind when I saw Freeman’s beard in the flesh.

I had minimal knowledge of the play’s historical background, but I knew the basics. To confirm my existing knowlefe; I conducted a quick Google search, which revealed Richard III was a complex monarch, accused of many things; ranging from the murder of the two princes in the tower in 1483, to having a hunched back. With these details in mind, I sped-read Shakespeare’s tragedy on the train to London. As I progressed through it, I realised I was in for a night of regicide; infanticide, and incest. Shakespeare’s representation of the eponymous monarch was unflattering and unforgiving. I wondered how a remarkably charming actor, like Martin Freeman, would be able to portray such rancid qualities on stage. Rest assured reader; Freeman plays a villain to perfection. He delivered Shakespeare’s words with dark and devious aplomb. With a carefully characterised limp and hunched back; his familiar appearance was altered dramatically; allowing the audience to despise him anew.

The female cast were also superb. Gina McKee was flawless as Queen Elizabeth; her dialogue with Richard about the murder of her sons, and the sacrificial marriage of her daughter had me on the edge of my seat. Her desperation and grief were mirrored in her every movement. Lauren O’Neil’s delivery of Anne’s (Richard’s first wife) venomous dialogue was also mesmerising. I particularly enjoyed her spitting in Richard’s face; a moment I had been eagerly anticipating. Maggie Steed’s portrayal of the witch-like Queen Margaret was spell-binding; her deep and ominous voice matched her apathetic, prophetic scene-stealing stares.

Director Jamie Lloyd’s decision to use 1979/80s style sets and costumes perfectly complimented the events depicted in Shakespeare’s original script. As with Macbeth, Lloyd’s combination of apocalyptic lighting and sound effects enhance Shakespeare’s character soliloquies and asides; making them utterly unforgettable. His direction of Richard’s dream sequence was also chilling; no wonder we had trouble sleeping last night.

As for gore and bodily fluids; the stage was flooded with them. The murder of Richard’s brother, George of Clarence; was a particularly gruesome highlight. He was drowned in front of us in a fish tank that housed two living goldfish. As George drew his last breath; a stunned silence spread through the audience, as eerily as the fake blood that spread through the water. It was grim but glorious; as was Anne’s death by telephone cord, and the presentation of Lord Hastings’s blood-soaked, severed head. All were easily cleared away in seamless and often humorous stage transitions.

Ultimately; the team behind the Trafalgar Transformed production of Shakespeare’s Richard III, should be commended for their talent, their vision; and their ability to make me jump out of my skin with a single, ear-shattering sound effect.


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