Thursday, April 8, 2021

RICHARD III (Guildford School of Acting)*****


By Tommy


Available until: One more livestreamed performance on Thursday 8th April at 7.30pm.

Age rating: 15+

Richard III is the fifth play to be streamed by Guildford School of Acting which has been watched and reviewed by Mobile Theatre and it is an absolute privilege to watch these incredible young performers, still students but already giving performances at the very highest level.

With the metaphorical bar set at a considerable height by their performance of Hamlet, the cast of Richard III had a most difficult task in order to match it, but they have undeniably done so with great style and elegance in this outstanding production, unlike any other I have seen of this very fine play.

This production is what has become known as ‘genderblind’, but this honestly did not occur to me until I read it in the programme notes. I am sure I was aware, in some recess of my mind, that Richard III was played by a woman, but all I saw was a truly great Richard III. The same applies to the other actors. They simply become their characters and the one time where gender did become, to some extent, relevant was when a male character appeared wearing a skirt, but the slight surprise this occasioned passed quickly as it honestly did not matter whether this character was a woman or a transvestite: they were simply a human being.

The production has, as one might expect, been cut. Richard III usually runs at close to four hours long and I’m not sure that even that would be the complete play. When the performance ended, my reaction was rather more along the lines of gasping in wonder than in checking the length, but at a guess, this production was probably a little over two and a half hours. A lot was therefore missing, though I believe more has been added: I understand that one of Richard’s speeches comes in fact from King Henry VI Part III, spoken by the same character and added to the play for the Laurence Olivier film of 1955 and the Ian McKellen film of forty years later. I believe they added it to Richard’s opening speech, though in the GSA production, it appears later in the play. The speech did not appear out of place and the cuts did not seem to cause any confusion; the play is a coherent whole.

Nicholas Scrivens directs a powerful and passionate production. The roles are strongly-characterised and while the emotions of the characters are not always expected, they work extremely well and if anything, the vast difference in the characters and their emotional reactions renders the play even more interesting than usual. The strength of the characters’ emotions also provoke strong reactions in the audience: there are characters we despise, characters whom we admire and characters for whom we feel – sometimes unexpected – sympathy. There are even unexpected moments of humour: the Murderers (India Rose and Jamie Stephenson-Glynn) are a delight and so is the stout-hearted Edward, the young Prince of Wales and (uncrowned) Edward V, though I seem to be unaccountably stupid and cannot find the name of the actor who played this role.

Julian Woolford, GSA’s Head of Musical Theatre, mentions in his programme notes the great similarity of the political situations in Richard III and the present day. This is perhaps Mr Scrivens’ reason for updating the play at least to the general vicinity of present day, with modern dress designed by Emily Stuart, and flashbulb cameras. It is a relevant and reasonable interpretation, but I found the performances so potent, I was strangely unaware of the fact they were all in modern costumes and thought of them absolutely as Richard III, his followers and his enemies; historical figures of the mid to late fifteenth century. Therefore, it is difficult to comment on the success of this decision, but it most certainly did not hinder my enjoyment for and admiration of the production in any way.

The production uses the same stage as was used for the other GSA productions (with the possible exception of Babe, The Sheep Pig). Roger Ness’ set is mostly a bare stage, but items of furniture are sometimes brought unobtrusively onto the set when needed. Although there was not a strong sense of place, this seems to be of limited importance in Richard III, with the possible exceptions of the scenes on the battlefield, as the play is more about the metaphorical place of the characters in terms of their allegiance, and it therefore seems quite correct that the set is minimal. Lighting designer John Rainsforth and sound designer Vicky Wilkinson both make a considerable contribution to the atmosphere of the play, which is extremely powerful and, at times, almost frightening.

Music also plays a significant role in this production. Niall Bailey has composed some exquisite music which is wonderfully performed by members of the cast. The musicians clearly play their instruments to a considerable standard and there are also some exceptional singers in the cast. What an incredibly gifted group of students these are. It is a difficult time for all students, particularly those who might be graduating in the next couple of months, but with theatre slowly beginning to open up again, it is difficult to believe there won’t be a place in the industry for most, if not all, of this very talented group of young people.

Sara Nelson is astounding in the role of Richard III. Cruel and ruthless yet utterly compelling, it is almost sad when this Richard’s bloodthirsty yet magnificent reign comes to an end. An accomplished and truly masterful performance by anyone’s standards.

Cara Murray is most certainly a worthy adversary for Richard in the role of Lady Anne. Though their battle is short, it is potent. Sophie Arthur is icily cold as the Duchess of York, and Lauren MacDonald is incredibly moving in her emotional performance as Queen Elizabeth. Rebecca Millan is a formidable Queen Margaret. while Evie Redfern is a rousing and inspiring Earl (or perhaps one should say Countess) of Richmond.

Laura Andresen Guimaraes and Frederik Parhus give very affecting performances as the Dukes of Clarence and Buckingham and there is also a very fine performance from Dave Storer as the loyal but luckless and rather gullible Lord Hastings.

Another superlative and very highly recommended production from the Guildford School of Acting.

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