Richard III at Bridewell Theatre. Photo credit: David Ovenden

Richard III by William Shakespeare – Bridewell Theatre | Review

Flicking through BBC iPlayer (other streaming services are available) the other day I came across Laurence Olivier’s 1955 version of Richard III. It’s an amazing film with a very relevant story of power, greed and downfall. Imagine my delight when I found that Sedos were putting the play on at the Bridewell Theatre. I signed up at once.

Richard III at Bridewell Theatre. Photo credit: David Ovenden
Richard III at Bridewell Theatre. Photo credit: David Ovenden

Transposed to modern-day parliament, the story follows the maneuvering of Richard (Sam Sugarman) who feels that he rather than the present incumbent (Elizabeth Elstub) should be the King of the political arena. He makes an appropriate marriage to Anne (Antonia Kasoulidou) the wife of a former opponent and then together with co-conspirators Buckingham (Audrey Lindsay) and Gatesby (Karina Zakharyan) he starts by getting rid of rivals such as Clarence (Elliot Archer) and Hastings (Dave Wainwright) whose political careers are killed when they are sacked from the government, Richard climbs the greasy pole until he sits achieves his goal. But, like many a PM before him, Richard must take care to protect his throne. He must make good on his promises to his supporters. If not, his popularity and support could drain away and maybe an opponent, such as the charismatic Richmond (Ingrid Miller) could usurp him.

Oh, this was fun. The story of the rise of a non-traditional-looking leader who has little to offer but charisma and a determination to achieve what he believes is his destiny who then, having achieved it, finds himself losing support and allies to lose it all is something that anyone who has watched the news over the last few years can understand. The history of a medieval King fits in so well with the politics of today and the production completely works in placing the story in a modern political setting.

Director Dan Edge brings in big screens and a news ticker tape to keep us up to date with the political situation as Richard rises and falls, and even incorporates a news studio and live video to complete the very contemporary feel to the story – nice work by cameramen Mike Brown throughout the show. The rest of the set, arches above the stage and some rather noisy wheeled tables, is simple but effective and leaves a large space for the actors to perform. This works especially well in the opening soliloquy by Richard and the final night before the battle when Sugarman is alone, a small figure dominating the larger stage space. The only negative I had was with some of the costumes which didn’t make it always easy to follow who was who, especially with some of the smaller parts.

Performance-wise, it’s standing ovation time for Sugarman who perfectly captures Richard as a person with many faces. Fawning with his king, but openly ambitious with the audience. Flirty with Anne, supportive of Clarence as he is taken to the tower and ruthless as he orders repulsive murders. There is a lot for any actor to portray there and Sugarman does it superbly, leading a very talented cast of great players.

Summing up, Sedos have done it again with Richard III. Every time I see this company I leave the theatre impressed by their performance, and this was no exception. The link between contemporary politics and the machinations in England’s medieval court worked so well producing a show that stayed true to Shakespeare’s vision while feeling as fresh as if it had been penned in, for example, 2022.

4 Stars

Review by Terry Eastham

This retelling of one of Shakespeare’s most popular history plays does away with duels, grandly dressed nobles and pitched battles, taking us instead to the current seat of power in the United Kingdom: Westminster.

The green benches and corridors buzz with betrayal, deception and plots as our protagonist tries to clear the obstacles blocking his route to the ultimate prize – and then to cling desperately to his position.

Combining a modern political setting with innovative technical elements and Shakespeare’s timeless prose, this fresh production will tell the old story of Richard III in a new way, connecting with those seeing the show for the first time and delighting abiding fans.

Richard III includes themes of death, murder and drug use.

RICHARD | Sam Sugarman (he/him)
BUCKINGHAM | Audrey Lindsay (she/her)
ANNE | Antonia Kasoulidou (she/her)
CATESBY | Karina Zakharyan (they/them)
CLARENCE | Elliot Archer (he/him)
DERBY | Paul Caira
DUCHESS OF YORK | Mary Wright (she/her)
ELIZABETH | Sarah Fowkes (she/her)
HASTINGS | Dave Wainwright (he/him)
RICHMOND | Ingrid Miller
RIVERS | Carole Stewart (she/her)
THE KING | Elizabeth Elstub (she/her)

Carl Reyes (he/him)
Charlie O’Reardon (he/him)
Em Oliver (they/them)
Isobel Lawson (she/her)
James McKendrick (he/him)
Jess Hearn (she/her)
Liam Wells (he/him)
Livvy Perrett (she/them)

DIRECTOR | Dan Edge (he/him)
PRODUCER | Clare Harding (she/her)
LIGHTING DESIGNER | Will Lake (he/him)
VIDEOGRAPHER | Jim Onyemenam (he/him)
CAMERA OPERATOR | Mike Brown (he/him)
STAGE MANAGER | Tamsin Ker (she/her)
SET CONSTRUCTION | Andrew Laidlaw (he/him)
MARKETING | Pippa Kyle (she/her)
PROGRAMME | Em Oliver (they/them)
PHOTOGRAPHER | David Ovenden (he/him)
COMMITTEE LIAISONS | Olly Levett (he/him) and Henry Whittaker (he/him)

Richard III plays at the Bridewell Theatre from 9 to 18 May 2024.

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