Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, London. 2014.
In 2012 I saw the amazing Globe Theatre/Mark Rylance Richard III twice and in 2013 I saw Macbeth at the Trafalgar Studios by the same director.
Both of these things had made me wary about seeing this version of Richard III but the thought of seeing Martin Freeman in a serious role drew three of us to the theatre on a very hot August day.
When the cast appeared on stage wearing gas masks Rebecca and I groaned simultaneously - was this to be a total repeat of Macbeth where the characters were incomprehensible? Happily they pulled this odd prop off straight away and one fear at least was allayed.
The play wasn't totally bad. Freeman was very good and it was easy to forget that it was 'him from Sherlock/ the Hobbit/ the Office' on stage. He was also very good at the comic side of Richard's character but I never really got the malevolent side of him at all, even in the scene where he is brutally murdering his wife. He wasn't particularly playing the role for laughs I don't think but the audience were certainly reacting as if it was total comedy throughout and I think this, and the staging lead me to feel this.
The staging was cluttered, the actors couldn't move around at all and I'm not really sure what the 1970s setting added to the play, in fact when Richard calls "my horse..." it seemed really stupid and nothing at all to do with the play.
I never connected with the action at all, I really might as well have been watching a film - something that I've not experienced at the theatre for a long time. It isn't as if the theatre itself is huge causing this disconnect, just my response to a flat production which seemed to be just like Macbeth complete with the opening of the back of the theatre to the main street to allow the soldiers to flood in and create an effect.
Rebecca had a lot of problem with the female characters adding nothing to the production, and reminded me of the power they had in the all male version. I can see what she means,I thought that in this version the director realised that the play was quite 'female-lite' and so had them on stage more but despite this they become indistinguishable from each other and to be honest a lot of the time were inaudible.
I wanted to like this production, I'd hoped that Macbeth was an aberration from a good director but I feel that his attempts to make Shakespeare 'hip' are hindering the plays which don't need fancy staging just good clear story telling.
This production has come in for some criticism from various sides saying that the audience are only going to see Martin Freeman and that they are spoiling theatre by not knowing how to behave. I didn't find this at all, it was nice to see a younger audience at a play and there was no inappropriate applause or screaming. I did find the humour overplayed in respect to the horror but that isn't necessarily the audience's fault.
I'm glad we saw Freeman on stage -it was nice to see that he can be more than a bumbling side-kick but I'm afraid I won't be rushing back to any more Trafalgar Transformed productions and I'll be very wary of plays directed by Jamie Lloyd.
It was nice that our third theatre-going friend could make this play with us again, we've missed her! I just hope that she wasn't put off by our choice of play. A third perspective after the production was really nice.