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Finale to Gregory Doran's history cycle for RSC
All good things come to an end and in this case, it's the conclusion to the scintillating History cycle carefully overseen by director Gregory Doran over the past decade for the Royal Shakespeare Company(RSC).
Richard III brings the Wars of the Roses to a conclusion
Its beginnings of David Tennant as Richard II in a pre-covid world of 2012 may seem an age ago as the English civil war reaches its bloody climax in Richard III.
This is by far the wittiest in the latest series of plays; continuing on from Henry VI:Rebellion and Wars of the Roses with the same cast. It heralds the long-awaited moment for Arthur Hughes to take centre stage as the dastardly Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
Hughes stole the limelight many times in the previous two plays but he wonderfully ramps up Richard's ruthlessness to a whole other level in his latest outing. This talented actor makes it easy to see why Dicky ended up forgotten under a Leicester car park.
This fresh new RSC production of Richard III from Doran is on at Stratford-upon-Avon's Royal Shakespeare Theatre until October 8.
Hughes is the first disabled actor to play Richard for the RSC which goes some way towards an authentic representation of this character (who forensic tests have found had scoliosis of the spine). But what's special about Hughes is how he makes the power-hungry Duke both villainous but likeable.
He nurtures an easy rapport with the audience and his comical approach to Richard's bad deeds verges on satire. That said, there's a gravitas too where you're keenly aware that this is a murderous rule-breaker who thinks nothing of the rising body count.
A child killer among his many crimes, Richard's blood-thirsty nature is reflected well by the red shadows looming over the stage. It's a stark set, apart from a menacing stone cenotaph that acts as a constant reminder of the battles. Maybe a little more on stage wouldn't have gone amiss.
Minnie Gale returns as the vivacious former queen Margaret
The throne - a constant in all the History cycle plays -makes a welcome return as does tremendous Minnie Gale. She once again brings out the eccentricities of former Queen Margaret with a flourish.
Witch-like and stooped over with flowing long grey hair, we see fiery Margaret stalk her enemies even in old age, cursing all the main players with glee until she gets her retribution.
A new addition to the cast is Rosie Sheehy as Lady Anne who Richard sets his sights on. Sheehy you may remember as the refreshing impressive lead in King John. She's overshadowed this time around however by a strong line-up that includes Claire Benedict and Kirsty Bushel. There are some particularly strong comedy performances too.
Connor Glean is part of a comedic double act of murderers
Doran does go big on the humour, even making Richard's hired killers a hilarious double act (Joeravar Sangha and Connor Glean).
It's only towards the end that he changes the tempo when Richard's enablers one by one realise the folly of their actions and it just isn't funny anymore.
How they have played their parts in creating a monster is never more apparent than the transformation in fortunes of Lord Hastings and Buckingham. It leaves a lump in the throat as actors Micah Balfour and Jamie Wilkes respectively show every bit of Hastings' and Buckingham's raw, devastated emotions.
The battle scenes lift the production to a romping finale during a closing 20 minutes with renewed energy. The video camera seen in Wars of the Roses returns to beef up the visuals.
The highlight, however, is the stunningly vivid imagery creating Richard's dream and then his horse from all those key figures he has killed along the way. It's ingenious, atmospheric and the reason we come to see live theatre.
Doran has seen his pet project through to a satisfying ending with this impressive Richard III. This accomplished production is brimming with delicious black humour but most of all, in Hughes, it has a star turn from one of the RSC's most exciting new talents.