Alan Committie as Richard in Richard III photo by Maggie Gericke
Directed by Geoffrey Hyland, the production is billed as a ‘rollercoaster romp’. However, there’s little levity in evidence, and it’s a clear misnomer to describe Richard III as a ‘comic-tragedy’. Furthermore, the complexities of the court make suspension of belief difficult, as it’s hard to get a grip on all of the characters and where they fit into the plot. Although the Ensemble actors do their best, there is an inevitably confusing tangle of noblemen and courtly ladies. <br /> <br /> This play is not what one might describe as subtle. Usually Shakespeare’s villainous protagonists possess some fatal flaw, or at least a modicum of humanity that reveals itself over the course of the action and permits of our empathy. Not so with infamous hunchback Richard, whose feigning, cloying, scheming and deadly machinations strangle any residual empathy we might have felt. The anti-hero’s thoroughly unpleasant character can’t be explained away by mere ambition or even lifelong discrimination resulting from his deformity. Bent (excuse the pun) on dispatching anyone whom he believes blocks his route to the crown of England - and a few others just for the fun of it - Richard recruits a murderer or two and secures the treachery of his cousin the Duke of Buckingham (played with credibility by Andrew Laubscher). Bloodied heads appear on stakes as the royal court and all family members closer in bloodline to the throne than his own fall prey one by one to the loathsome Richard’s paranoid fears. His goal within reach, the Machiavellian protagonist determines to satiate a short-lived lust for the widow Lady Anne (played with boldness by Bianca Mannie), with a resultant dual crowning. He then arranges her death in an attempt to bolster the stability of his kingdom through marriage to his niece, Elizabeth of York. You won’t need a spoiler alert to work out what his fate might be, with the play following the usual Shakespearean tragedy’s pattern.
The relentless death and gloom within this play is conveyed not only through language. Foreboding inky-black costumes by Ilka Louw (which reminded me of an old video version of ‘Macbeth’ forced upon us at school) dampen the spirit, as does the stark, plain stage set by Geoffrey Hyland and Bridie Birdy. Brooding music as ominous as the action (with sound by Bernard Kotz) heralds death just in case the audience hasn’t quite got the gist. Personally, I felt that the universal malevolence didn’t require visual representation, symbolism, or any further clarity: everyone dies – we get it!
In comparison with last year’s Shakespearian triumph by Mish Mash’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, with its superb all-female cast and clever interpretation, this year’s melancholy choice was not such a crowd-pleaser. A strong female presence was evident, though, with Lee-Ann van Rooi as the Duchess of York, Anthea Thompson as Queen Margaret, and Cassandra Mapanda as Queen Elizabeth joining Mannie. Although the play kept my attention throughout, I left feeling slightly disappointed. Committie was a passable Richard III, and any weakness was more to do with the Bard’s stolid characterisation, rather than an indictment of his acting abilities. In my view, though, he is much more self-assured in comedy. Despite my reservations, this venue is always wonderful, and a glass of wine at the interval helps to soothe frayed nerves. We were also very fortunate with the weather; a perfect balmy summer evening. Why not gather some friends, soak up the atmosphere, and assess the quality of this Shakespearean offering yourselves?
Tickets: R130 - R220
Dates: 6 February 2019 – 9 March 2019 (Monday to Saturday)