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Review: Richard III (Rose Theatre, Kingston)

Review by Rosie Holmes

Every time I see a Shakespeare play it blows my mind that we are viewing the very same stories and hearing the same words as Elizabethan theatregoers over 400 years ago. Such is the power of Shakespeare’s storytelling that many of his plays have stood the test of time and still delight audiences today. The Rose Theatre in Kingston, actually modelled on the Elizabethan Rose Theatre, Bankside, home to many Shakespeare productions in his heyday, is currently home to Adjoa Andoh’s Richard III. I had to wonder, would this play too stand the test of time and delight today’s audiences like it did the Elizabethans?

The story of Richard III charts the rise of its title character Richard, Duke of Gloucester, to his position as King, using manipulation and deceit to achieve his goal. Along the way he kills anyone who gets in his way including his nephews and his brother, only to meet his own demise as Henry, Earl of Richmond raises an army against him. This production is clearly a passion project for director Adjoa Andoh (Lady Danbury in Netflix’s Bridgerton), who spoke about how the tale of Richard III resonated with her as a child. An outsider for their looks, Richard was mocked for his hunchback and Andoh was acutely aware of her differences from those as a black child in a rural Cotswolds. She has written about feeling like an outsider, ‘being judged for what I looked like rather than who I was’. Andoh’s aim with this piece was to explore how the othering of a person due to their appearance and the resulting abuse wears away at a person’s soul.

It’s an interesting premise and one which had me very excited to see this production. Set in the rural setting of her childhood, the Cotswolds Countryside, it’s certainly a different approach to a story that, for the most part, takes place in royal buildings such as The Tower of London. Unfortunately, the idea of ‘othering’ based on one’s appearance became lost in the piece, and what I thought would be a powerful theme throughout was quickly forgotten after the opening scene. In the beginning we see Richard speak of his appearance at which “dogs bark” and his resulting decision to be a villain. However, not enough is done to conjure up the life of a man who has been ridiculed as “deformed” and “unfinished.”

The rural setting felt a little odd, sometimes twee and unbalanced. We see a vision of idealised rurality complete with sounds of bird song, and the trickling of streams, which then turns sour as we see an unnerving Morris dancing troupe mock Richard, tying him up in the ribbons of the maypole. In moments like this, the rural landscape in which Andoh has set the piece made it almost a folkish comedy rather than a tale of intrigue involving Kings and Queens and bloody murders – this is a play set in a tumultuous period of English History, and its characters are the most powerful in the country, with scenes taking place at the majestic Tower of London and within the Royal Court.

Adjoa Andoh not only directs the piece but stars as the title character, and is quite simply a mesmerising actress, delivering lines with excellent comedic timing and using the widest array of facial expressions I have ever seen. Andoh’s portrayal of Richard III is almost childlike in many ways, perhaps to create a sympathetic portrayal, and even charming at times. He almost becomes a funny character to watch, leaping with joy when his scheming goes well and dancing about the stage. However, Richard is not a sympathetic character, but a self-confessed ‘villain’ with a murder count higher than many a serial killer. Shakespeare’s writing and our known history of these true events doesn’t support this portrayal and instead, left me feeling a little confused, even apathetic towards the main character. Andoh can certainly play a villain though – in one short scene we see Richard manipulate Lady Anne into becoming his wife, despite her knowledge that he had murdered her husband. This scene truly made my skin crawl and it’s a shame this level of drama did not continue throughout.

Andoh is supported by a stellar, very large cast, with Rachel Sanders as Elizabeth Woodville, Caroline Parker as the Duchess of York and Liz Kettle as Queen Margaret making for a powerful trio of women. One of the standout scenes of the production finds the three women grieving their sons and husbands lost to Richard’s wickedness. Sam Cox, in the role of Stanley, provides some comic relief, and Joseph Kloska is energetic and charismatic as the scheming Buckingham.

One addition to the cast was quite surprising – a puppet used to portray the young Duke of York. While I understand the complexities around using children in a show, the use of a puppet instead was slightly baffling, resulting in a detachment from the story and loss of immersion in the piece. It felt very out of place, almost comical, likely not the intended response when discussing the murder of a young boy. That being said, one prop which deserves some praise was the head of Clive Brill’s Lord Hastings. After his beheading we see his head tossed around in the hands of Richard, with remarkable likeness to the man himself, this copy could put the sculptors of Madame Tussauds to shame.

There are some interesting creative choices at play here. A dream sequence in which Richard is faced with his victims features these ghosts dressed as the decorations on many May Day hobby horses, and this didn’t quite achieve its chilling and reflective aims, the costumes by Maybelle Laye were wonderful. Amelia Jane Hankin’s set design is visually pleasing and does well at creating the impression of space and open air on a smaller stage. However, the setting itself doesn’t always work, this being a story of royalty and the rural location diluting the villainous nature of Richard’s actions and serving to lessen the drama surrounding them. The performance certainly could have done with some set changes, perhaps the eerie yet palatial cells at The Tower of London that kept many of Richard III’s victims prisoner would have created more drama.

It’s always a privilege to see works of Shakespeare on the stage, his lyrical words and stories proving to be timeless pieces of entertainment, and Adjoa Andoh’s wonderfully talented cast help to explore some bold ideas in this production, however the tone of this production is too unbalanced and doesn’t feel fully committed to its themes. Is Richard III a funny and sympathetic character, or the Machiavellian villain Shakespeare intended him to be? Fans of Shakespeare’s writing may still enjoy this production, as the script mostly remains true to the original, but those hoping for a brave new imagining may feel let down – those who aren’t fans of The Bard, and who know little of Richard’s history, may well leave feeling baffled.


Richard III is playing at The Rose Theatre, Kingston until 13th May 2023, tickets can be purchased here -

Photos by Manuel Harlan (2nd and 4th images in review)

and by Shonay Shote (preview, 1st and 4th images in review)



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