Review: Richard III offers fascinating and thought-provoking fare in Northampton

Tom Mothersdale as Richard III. Picture: Marc Brenner
Tom Mothersdale as Richard III. Picture: Marc Brenner

Anna Brosnan reviews Richard III at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton

When it comes to complete character decimation, no finer job has arguably ever been done than Shakespeare tearing apart Richard III.

Portrayed as an ugly and reviled person, ‘deformed’ and rejected, a betrayer and child murderer, there couldn’t be many worse accusations to hurl in the king's direction.

Although many historians may disagree with the evil extent of the Bard’s depiction, nevertheless the name of Richard III first conjures up images created by Shakespeare.

Richard III is a fascinating play, with a central character always told in slightly different ways according to the perspective of eachdirector.

It was with great interest I saw the latest stage version at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate this week.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Richard III is about a man who was born with some physical problems and who vows to make himself a ‘villain’ because, as he sees it, he cannot be loved.

He leads a murderous path through his family line, eventually gaining the crown but meeting a wave of new political problems.

Tom Mothersdale plays the central role of Richard in this portrayal and he delivers an astounding characterisation.

Leaning in to the audience, he makes each person watching feel like a confidante and he wins viewers over with his occasional comedic glances and knowing smiles.

Mothersdale delivers us a petulant, self-pitying Richard, longing to be loved, and with hints of a character underneath which is a little more vulnerable than his hard exterior.

I particularly admired the nuances within the scenes Richard had with his mother (Eileen Nicholas), which I think reveal a lot about the affection he was missing and the way in which his mother felt about his disability.

Though minimal, the set and design (by Chiara Stephenson) were fascinatingly symbolic. The action took place in a circular shape surrounded by revolving mirrors, forcing the audience to think about the duplicity of Richard’s nature.

Above the stage is a circle of lights which alter in intensity according to the on-stage action.

As the play progresses, the mirrors and set itself seem like a reflection of Richard’s own mind as he is confronted by manifestations of all the people he has murdered. Costumes are not period but neutral and modern in style.

On the whole I would strongly recommend this play to Shakespeare fans who want to witness yet another interesting interpretation. It does come with one note of caution that some scenes are quite violent - it is best to only go along if you have a strong stomach.

* Richard III runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturda May 25. Visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk to book.