Richard III at Bristol Old Vic

ANY production of Shakespeare’s comic splatterfest Richard III stands or falls by its central performance.

So it’s no wonder that Headlong and Bristol Old Vic, co-producers of the version that opened in the city and goes on to launch the refurbished Alexandra Palace in London, were excited to cast Tom Mothersdale in the role of the murderous king. Under John Haidar’s direction, he inhabits the twisted body of a man without boundaries, capricious in his desires, occasionally incisive, sometimes brutish, even at times pathetic, driven by insatiable ambition to get to the top. I tried – so hard – not to think about the present POTUS.

There’s a lot of arachnid imagery in Richard III, and certainly Moth­er­sdale’s performance encapsulates the deformed contortions of a man vilified from birth and throwing inhibition to the winds. Then in one tiny moment, his rationale is made so clear that it hurts.

Folding in speeches from earlier plays, the director has fleshed out the character of the matriarchal Duchess of York, and the whole unholy story is played out on Chiara Stephenson’s reflecting set,  allowing us to see Richard from all his angles, moving painfully between murders, plots and untimely wooing. The plight of the women on whom this vile king sets his sights is palpable, worn down and helpless, trying (mostly in vain) to hang on to life.

It’s a horrifying play about a horrible person, brilliantly perfomed with wry wit, ferocious energy and consumate skill.

You won’t see Richard III better done, and it is on in Bristol until 9th March and from 2nd to 13th April.


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