Theatre review: Martin Freeman provides menace in Richard III at Trafalgar Studios

starring Martin Freeman and Gina McKee

starring Martin Freeman and Gina McKee - Credit: Archant

After a maverick but successful opening season, the first production in Trafalgar Transformed’s second run is the eagerly anticipated Richard III – anticipated, at least in part, because the lead role is taken by former The Office sales rep, Sherlock sidekick and serial dragon-botherer Martin Freeman.

Inspired by the play’s opening lines “now is the winter of our discontent” Shakespeare’s Plantagenet classic is re-imagined in 70s Britain, a turbulent time of power cuts and uncollected rubbish after the unions flexed their muscle.

In a bid to swerve the audience’s potential lack of the historical knowledge which puts the story into context, the action begins in the aftermath of an imagined military coup; the two sides in this case being the houses of York and the Lancaster.

The set is fantastic, all sinister 1984-style bureau with the audience on both sides of the stage creating a immersive feel.

Despite the (semi) contemporary setting the dialogue is true to the original; incongruous with the flared suits and TV sets, not to mention the regional accents; iambic pentameter isn’t usually ­delivered in a Geordie or Jamaican brogue.

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But it really works. The lines are delivered with such expression and feeling, augmented with loud, startling sound effects, eerie string lines and plenty of blood and guts. An English teacher could do a lot worse than take a class to this to introduce them to the Bard.

Mr Freeman is fantastic and proves he’s a versatile soul; right from the start his Machiavellian Richard is a devious stinker, wringing his wicked hands while making witty asides to the crowd and pithy put downs, but all with an air of genuine menace.

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He’s ably supported all round –Gerald Kyd’s Catesby is fantastically sinister, Forbes Masson is an excellent, brow-beaten Hastings and hell hath no fury like Maggie Steen’s spurned Queen Margaret.

It’s gruelling, brooding, wry and enthralling in equal measures and I can’t wait to see what Trafalgar Transformed conjures up next.

Rating: Four out of five stars

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