The other night, I witnessed my third Richard III in London. After Kevin Spacey (The Old Vic) and Mark Rylance (Shakespeare’s Globe), I headed down to the Trafalgar Studios to see Martin Freeman, who I mostly discovered in Sherlock as an incredibly smooth and truthful actor. Again, an actor more unique than others.
While Freeman may be the reason for sold out evenings, the ensemble work in Jamie Lloyd’s latest production is absolutely thrilling and offers the historical play a whole new modern touch. I have rarely heard Shakespeare being spoken in this way, with such an ease and “throw-away” nature that has you holding onto each word without finding it dated. Despite the nervousness I felt from the first minutes, humour slips in at unexpected evil moments, and most often we laugh at Freeman’s modest gestures. His performance is the proof that you really don’t need to do too much to show off meaning. The text does all the work.
It is always fascinating to see how a director uses new modern ways to introduce lines and circumstances that we’ve heard so many times before: “What news?” is answered by a fax machine, and a brutal killing is helped by a telephone cord around a neck or a lethal injection. In certain cases, like the famous “My kingdom for a horse” or something as simple as a “My dagger, little cousin?”, it’s difficult to translate parts of the text into a 1970s media office space. But in the case of this efficient and accessible show, it matters very little.
The Trafalgar Studios are a small space. I thought it was a bad idea to have members of the audience sit on the stage itself. They missed a lot of the actors’ important facial expressions, especially because I feel that the actors were mostly playing towards the main audience. However, the latter didn’t suffer from the second audience’s presence at all, as the performances were so mesmerising and fast paced. Time truly flew by for me.
Despite a few spacial limitations (two long tables blocking some movement in the middle of the stage), this production achieved to make us forget the Shakespeare and immerse ourselves in a close and grim reality.