Richard III

I have seen several performances of Richard III; Laurence Olivier and Ian McKellen on film, and Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic, but Emily Carding’s portrayal of the king who murders his way to the English throne is in a league of its own. Her performance is electric, perfectly capturing Richard’s manic glee as he executes foes, friends and even his own family. We are drawn into Richard’s world as soon as we enter the chapel of St John’s, as Carding greets us all individually by a character’s name and places an appropriate label around our necks. We, the audience, portray all of the other characters in Shakespeare’s drama, meaning that we do not sit idly by and watch Richard’s schemes; we are involved, his co-conspirators and, sadly for most of us, his victims. This innovative, daring re-imaging of the text means that the sense of danger as Richard’s schemes escalate, the sense of fear as we find ourselves to be pawns in his game, these feelings are physical, personal, palpable. There is no fourth wall. We are invested and involved in this performance like no other; and what a performance it is.

With her powerful physicality and nuanced, mesmerising speech, it is [Emily Carding's] name, and not just Richard’s, that stands as a tower of strength.

It is clear that Carding is thoroughly enjoying herself portraying Richard, whether laughing with incredulity at the wooing of Lady Anne or calling across the room to Clarence when speaking to his murderers “I hope you aren’t listening to this!”. These occasional asides and Carding’s responses to and interaction with her audience show her skill at improvisation, further drawing us in as we laugh along with her, sharing in Richard’s amusement even though we know him to be a villain. There is a great sense of fun throughout this performance, the same joy that Richard has in his ability to “seem a saint when most I play the devil” yet, as this line would indicate, there is an ever-present danger behind this enjoyment. There’s daggers in men’s smiles.

This sense of danger is heightened by Brite Theater’s adaptation of the text as a one woman show, manipulating it so that Richard can address characters as though they have spoken to him, responding to their nods and looks; a one woman show but no mere monologue, as the audience willingly works to aid Richard along his bloody path to power. Although a great deal is cut from the text, it feels as though there is nothing missing at all, so skilful is Carding in speaking Shakespeare’s language, his verse the star of the show and a testament to Richard’s complexity and malice. The story is made clear for those who do not know the play not only in this editing of the text but in Carding’s performance, gesturing or glowering at characters as she mentions them; looks made all the more terrifying for me as I was cast as one of the Woodvilles whom Richard despises, and eventually kills off. The manner of these deaths I will not disclose; suffice to say that the simplicity, and surprising humour, of these executions, as well as the minimalist set and props, only adds to the show’s strength.

There is no set, as such, just a table and a swivel chair. Nothing else is needed. The contrast between Richard in suit and tie, in the office chair, surrounded by the audience as though at a board meeting, and the stained glass and stone walls of the church was an incredible fusion of the modern and medieval worlds for Carding’s Richard to bustle in, her physicality unpredictable and dangerous, as mesmerising as her speech. This proved atmospheric enough, but the echoes of Richard’s battle oratory about the chapel walls were sufficient to send chills down my spine. The props are as minimal as the set, with a paper crown heightening the sense of Richard’s play-acting, as well as the fragility of his eventual grip on power. Carding’s grip on the audience, however, is anything but fragile, and earned her a deserved standing ovation. With her powerful physicality and nuanced, mesmerising speech, it is her name, and not just Richard’s, that stands as a tower of strength.

Reviews by Catriona Scott

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The Blurb

An audience. Anything can happen. All the world is a stage. What part will you play? Pushing the boundaries of Shakespearean performance, Brite Theatre have re-imagined Richard III as a bold and engaging one-woman show. The fourth wall has been utterly obliterated, as you the audience take on the roles of all the other characters at Richard's party in this intimate, exciting and moving production. Let Richard entertain you … but will you survive? 'Even more sinister than other Richards I have seen on stage and film … it touched me deeper.(Silja Aðalsteinsdóttir, Tjarnarbio, Reykyavik).

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