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Richard III, Arcola, review: ‘Greg Hicks’ riveting performance is terrifying’

PUBLISHED: 11:26 23 May 2017

Greg Hicks in Richard III. Picture: Alex Brenner

Greg Hicks in Richard III. Picture: Alex Brenner

(c) Alex Brenner

With RSC regular Greg Hicks in the title role, the interpretation highlights the interplay between hollow political promises and cruel reality.

“Plead not what I have been but what I will be,” rings out like a warning in Mehmet Ergen’s lean production of Shakespeare’s history.

With RSC regular Greg Hicks in the title role, the interpretation highlights the interplay between hollow political promises and cruel reality.

Hicks’ riveting performance avoids the depiction of Richard as a seductive tactician. Here he is an impatient thug, a spry figure who spits out words making every utterance a threat. The effect is terrifying.

As the audience takes their seats, Richard sits alone by a barstool playing with a metal spinning-top. He looks like a lonely schoolboy, dressed in black leather and primed for a night out. Even in semi-repose there’s a reptilian quickness to his movements and his ever-watchful eyes.

When he stands we see a heavy chain connects a clubfoot to his hand; a torturous impediment that supports and aggravates his affliction.

Hicks gets excellent support from a skillful ensemble of Shakespeare veterans, in particular Peter Guinness whose tough Buckingham has a convincing awakening when he refuses to kill the young princes; and Sara Powell as Queen Elizabeth who plays the “painted queen” turned grieving mother with impressive integrity. Young Prince Cameron Lane can really hold the stage.

Ergen makes excellent use of the Arcola’s small performance space. The stage is stripped of props and a metal balustrade and staircase is used to add a sense of dimension.

The flipside to the boldness is that the intensity is relentless. If the seduction of Lady Anne (Georgina Rich) can sometimes be made to feel creepily alluring, here it’s purely creepy. When the knives come out and Clarence (Paul Kemp) and Buckingham are dispatched, the violence is graphic and gruesome.

Ultimately, the shock-effect pays off. With the machinations of power daily visible on our television screens, this searching production hits home. Hard.

Richard III runs at the Arcola until June 6. arcolatheatre.com

Rating 4/5 stars

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