Richard III - Edfringe Review

It is always exciting to find a reworking of a Shakespeare classic with a woman at the centre. In this case Shakespeare’s arch villain, Richard III – a play that came to define not only the man but was the prime example of a play as propoganda, for several hundred years.

A chapel in St John’s church in Edinburgh’s west end makes a perfect setting for this new one woman retelling first performed in Tjarnarbio Iceland in 2014. It has been adapted by Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir (director) and Emily Carding (performer).

As we arrive Emily Carding playing Richard casts members of the audience as key characters giving them labels to hang round their neck. These include Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville, her brothers the Earls Grey and Rivers, Richard’s allies – Buckingham, Catesby and Hastings and, of course, the princes. One by one they are drawn into the story before having a further label ‘DEAD’ attached to them.

This is a clear and concise retelling of the story using the original text – with occasional substitutions of pronoun and the odd aside to help the newly cast audience member to the right place.

There is no set other than a small table and an office chair that Carding uses to great effect to travel the length of the stage area. The few props are also used to good effect, especially the phone – via which Richard receives much of the new from France as Richmond approaches. It works well and gives a sense of urgency to the proceedings. In addition there is only one row of seats around the wall so everyone has a good view.

Reducing any Shakespeare to an hour is no mean feat and involves leaving out great swathes of story. In this adaptation there is a clear narrative and the audience involvement helps to contribute to the clarity of the story. The latter part, after Richard is crowned, is particularly challenging as there are no longer the long, often, playful soliloquys that we find in the earlier acts, where Richard confides his plans, often gleefully, to the audience. I felt that they had made strong choices and the story flows well to its climax on Bosworth Field. Carding’s approach to the famous ‘A horse, a horse’ cry is to make it quiet, intimate and prelude to death rather than a battle cry and that is very powerful.

The shifts between scenes, for example between Richard on his own addressing us to Richard addressing the court weren’t always clear and would benefit from drawing more clearly. This space has no stage lighting which may have helped mark those changes in earlier productions.

I felt that there the piece could develop further – in any Shakespeare where a woman is playing the role of a man I look for some insight from a feminine perspective, a bringing out of the feminine side of the character for example as Carding did at the very end. I didn’t leave feeling I had seen a new side to Richard and I am sure that there is scope to delve deeper into the narrative that they have created and create a truly original take on this famous enigma of a man.

Overall, this is a great setting to hear the story of Shakespeare’s Richard told clearly and well by a woman who commands the stage and the audience at all times.

(c) Kate Saffin 2015

Just Festival at St John's (Venue 127)
Daily except Sundays till 31st.

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