Richard III review - Rosemary Branch Theatre

I’ve seen a few Richard IIIs in my time. And whether it be Trevor Nunn’s trilogy at the Rose Theatre Kingston or a fringe production up in Edinburgh - I’ve always found myself wanting to leave at the interval. Until now.

Godot’s Watch is a new company, who market their production of Richard III, put on at the Rosemary Branch Theatre, as “The original House of Cards.” A clever slogan and an even more impressive show. I will be excited to see what they come up with next.

For anyone who is not familiar with Richard III, or indeed House of Cards, it tells the story of power and murder between the royal family of England in the 1400s.

The War of the Roses has just been won by the Plantagenets and Edward IV is crowned King. However his youngest brother has eyes on the kingdom for himself and will do anything it takes to get his hands on it. Including murdering brothers and nephews in the royal line before him.

The shining star of this production was Sam Coulson whose portrayal of the notorious “bottled spider” was sensational. His imaginative approach, clarity of delivery and ability to appear sincere to every single character and then snap back to the audience, involving us in his plan was a joy to watch.

I particularly enjoyed how he performed the ‘disability.’ The stylistic choice of having a birthmark across the face as his ‘flaw’ rather than a physical hindrance worked well and didn’t detract from his tyrannous demeanour. He was strong, sharp, precise and reminded me of David Tennant’s Hamlet at the RSC circa 2009 (which I loved!) He had a relish of the language that is rare to find in a fringe production such as this. I don’t think it will be long before I start seeing him on bigger stages.

Another applaud must be given to the director, Séan Aydon for his bravery and boldness with Shakespeare’s classic dark play. To take one of the history plays and transfer it into modern day is risky business - a thing that I don’t always like to see with classic text. But throw some sharp suits, vaping and a conversation with Siri - all done in a slick and honest way and I’m on board! To do what Séan did and pull it off made this production a true success - the risk paid off!

I simply must mention the lighting designer, Jack Channer and Daniel Harmer for sound design. The opening involved a crescendo in music, four pillars of light shining brightly into the audience and then a blackout where we hear the footsteps of our protagonist. During this darkness, the infamous first words “Now is the winter of our discontent…” and the light slowly rises. A perfect way to open the production and it only got better from there.

Some moments, I felt, let the production down slightly by trying too hard for the comedy. I found it hard to believe that Lady Anne (Kate Dobson) would have such a casual air about her husband’s death directly after leaving his funeral. In addressing Richard as an annoying friend that won’t go away instead of a revolting tyrant made me feel like they missed the point. Similarly, I found the character of Rivers (Michael Rivers) a little jarring and clownish to watch, however I really liked his interpretation of the Gollum-like, murderer with split personalities.

There were some wonderful, dynamic moments within some of the supporting cast such as Elizabeth’s torment after her sons are murdered, played excellently by Katie Norris. Her emotional connection as well as the rapport with Coulson during this scene made it electrifying to watch. I also enjoyed the choice of making the young Prince Edward a stroppy teenager, played with excellent timing by Sophie Ormond.

Godot’s Watch’s production was the best Richard III I’ve seen to date and it will be a tough one to beat. Richard says in act 4 “An honest tale speeds best, being plainly told” and that’s exactly what this company did. They revelled in the text and applied a clever context that captured the audience’s imagination.

Richard III runs until 29th January.

(c) 2017 Molly Miller

Editor: Godot's Watch production of Richard III had a female Buckingham, Tyrrell & Richmond. 5 female actors and 3 male.

Avital Lvova - Queen Margaret
Elena Clements - Buckingham
Kate Dobson - Lady Anne/Richmond
Katie Norris - Queen Elizabeth
Michael Rivers - Rivers/Murderer/Stanley
Richard Patterson - Clarence/Edward IV/Duchess of York
Sam Coulson - Richard Gloucester
Sophie Ormond - Prince Edward/Tyrell

Playwright - William Shakespeare
Director - Séan Aydon
Floor Designer - Meriel Pym
Lighting Designer - Jack Channer
Sound Designer - Daniel Harmer
Stage Management - Jennifer Hunting
Make Up Design - Ann Tillinghast
Make Up - Brodie Mayhew

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