Theatre Review: Richard III, Alexandra Palace Theatre

PUBLISHED: 15:44 18 March 2019 | UPDATED: 13:27 19 March 2019

Richard III Headlong at Alexandra Palace Theatre picture by Marc Brenner

Richard III Headlong at Alexandra Palace Theatre picture by Marc Brenner


Revamped theatre hosts a thrilling reimagined version of Shakespeare’s history with a compelling central performance by Tom Mothersdale

Tom Mothersdale as Richard III in Headlong's production, picturey by Marc BrennerTom Mothersdale as Richard III in Headlong's production, picturey by Marc Brenner

A collaboration with Headlong, this is the first time that Shakespeare has been staged in Alexandra Palace’s (newly refurbished) theatre for 80 years, and it’s a worthy comeback.

Tense, thrilling, macabre and funny, it features a compelling, physically-committed performance by Tom Mothersdale that conjures either Jack Nicholson’s or Heath Ledger’s Joker - depending on your era.

Director John Haider has mucked about with the text, but mostly to clever effect, in a production that continues Headlong’s mission to reimagine the classics for a new audience. (My 14-year-old son was gripped)

Borrowing Henry VI’s murder from earlier in Shakespeare’s history cycle serves to emphasise Richard’s emergent psychopathy, and clarify a plot that can be weighted down by five generations of dynastic power struggle.

Richard III Headlong at Alexandra Palace TheatreRichard III Headlong at Alexandra Palace Theatre

The dead king goes on to haunt the action, summoning later victims through the revolving mirrors of Chiara Stephenson’s dungeon-like semi-circular set, where they reappear at key moments in Richard’s feverish imagination.

The focus here is a Duke of Gloucester whose twisted back and skewed legs make him scuttle like the spider he is called.

Physchologically scarred by his own disfigurement and his mother’s rejection, and believing himself unloveable, Richard is driven instead to self-obsessed destruction.

When he smirks and shrugs to the audience, it’s like laughing at the cruelist of school bullies, but later as Eileen Nicholas’ feisty Duchess of York flinches at his touch, he is crushed.

And if the compact cast and set appear somewhat lost on the broad sweep of Ally Pally’s stage, the mirror metaphor proves apt; when achieving the Crown doesn’t ease his self-loathing, he’s increasingly imprisoned by his own detested reflection.

Bodily fluids abound; when Leila Mimmack’s furious Anne spits at him, he licks it off. Later he bites a chunk out of another victim and spits it out. Most are despatched at close range with knives accompanied by an electric buzz of red light as if on a dystopian gameshow.

The only cavil is that we see so little of Richard’s charming side, his two-faced maniupulation, that you wonder why someone hasn’t buried a knife into his balatantly evil back earlier.

And the context of a broken country riven by civil war, is only really brought home in the closing scenes, when this psychologically insightful production finally turns back outwards.


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