With exquisite timing, the Rose Theatre’s latest offering is a royal epic centred on coronations. Opening a week ahead of King Charles III’s crowning, Richard III sees experimental thesp Adjoa Andoh (known to millions as Lady Danbury from Bridgerton) turn a title role traditionally depicting a white male hunchback into a petite black villain to
With exquisite timing, the Rose Theatre’s latest offering is a royal epic centred on coronations.
Opening a week ahead of King Charles III’s crowning, Richard III sees experimental thesp Adjoa Andoh (known to millions as Lady Danbury from Bridgerton) turn a title role traditionally depicting a white male hunchback into a petite black villain to explore ‘otherness’.
And it works. As the only actor of colour in an otherwise white cast, she stands out, grips the attention and conveys the shifting emotions of her regal character through a full spectrum of facial expressions, octave shifts and bursts of song. Andoh (above, right, with Phoebe Shepherd) also directs this production, which runs until May 13.
The insights we get into the last of the Plantagenets as the drama builds to the conclusion of the Wars of the Roses, at the end of the 15th century, point to William Shakespeare being the phone-hacker of his day, earwigging the conversations of rival factions in various palaces.
The stark difference is that while today’s extended royal family sometimes lose their heads metaphorically, the outcomes were rather more physical 600 years ago.
Shakespeare was writing about relatively fresh events, so the original audiences (the play was first performed roughly a century after Richard III died in battle hollering for ‘A horse, a horse…’) would have known the characters and locations well.
It’s the equivalent of modern playwrights producing works about the First World War, the Roaring Twenties or the Depression.
Andoh (intriguingly, in real life, also a lay preacher in the CofE) opts for bleak staging. Set designer Amelia Jane Hankin and lighting designer Chris Davey use three trees as the only furniture, with scenes created by spots, smoke machines and sounds including vivid birdsong, beautifully incorporated into the words and action by Benjamin Grant.
This production originated in Liverpool, and has a tight cast of 13 doubling up to bring us 24 characters in addition to you-know-who. One outstanding performer is Daniel Hawksford, who plays Richmond, and others. His stage presence is magnificent.
Modern audience members cannot hope to know the nuances and relationships of all the characters, or the towns associated with them, in the way those in the pit did in Shakespeare’s day. But we know injustice when we see it, and we know what attempts to seize and hold political power look like.
Although the script at times sounds like a gazetteer of Britain, with more places namechecked than an AA roadmap, that produces unexpected chortles for today’s Rose spectators. There was an amused ripple of giggling when it was suggested that a trip to take a look at Barnard Castle might be in order.
Although coronations were rather different affairs in the 1400s to the ballyhoo of today, all the references feel curiously topical. With one of the main events of the modern era being a gig at Windsor, it must have been tempting for Andoh to proclaim: ‘Now is the winter of our disco tent.’ She resisted.
Charles I was in the audience when this play was first performed. Charles III only has until May 13 to nip down the A3 to the Royal borough to watch a past monarch of identical regnal number get his comeuppance.
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