Richard III, Almeida Theatre, London. July 2016.
This was the third version of Shakespeare's Richard III that Rebecca and I have seen. The first was the stunning Mark Rylance/all male cast version at the Globe back in 2012 and it is always going to be hard for any other production to come close to this.
The star casting of Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave made getting tickets to this difficult but Rebecca managed it, although the seats were possibly a little more restricted view than we thought from the size/shape of the theatre - not that we were complaining for the price!
The play starts in the modern day with the dig in the Leicester car park where the remains of Richard III were found and this open pit remains on stage throughout, sometimes used for bodies to fall into, and at other times covered but always visible as a reminder of how the play was going to end.
It was a hot night in a dark theatre and I was tired yet I was kept engaged throughout this production which is a real positive but yet again I failed to quite connect with what was on stage.
Fiennes started evil in his portrayal of Richard and it had nowhere to go from this, people were laughing at his lines and actions but for me I didn't find him at all likable at any point and so he never had my sympathy. I also found his very graphic sexual actions, especially the rape, just too much to watch. Scenes like that could never have been performed until recently and the power in these scenes has always, for me, come from the words and again these scenes just felt a way to up the evil even further. However as I'd never had any sympathy for this Richard I didn't need to see him be nastier still.
The mix of modern costumes and mobile phones along with swords and the famous "a horse" line also didn't work for me, although the main proponent of this, Hastings played by Globe stalwart James Garnon, did manage to make the language seem natural and to fit with the staging - even when he was using a mobile phone.
My main issue with this production was with the staging, the Almeida is a small theatre and so to have the entire play performed to only 4 rows of the stalls was unforgivable. The attempts at including the audience could never work as so much of the play just didn't reach out. I think the only time the gaze of those on stage included the circle was the curtain call. I've also read reviews since seeing the play which talk about clever staging ideas that were totally invisible from our seats, and much of the circle from what I can tell from peeking around in the interval.
This was certainly better than the version of Richard III we saw at the Trafalgar Studios a couple of years back, and I am a little tempted to go and see this in the cinema at a National Theatre Live broadcast just to see if a 'perfect' view does make a difference.