Magazine article The Spectator

Variety Act

Magazine article The Spectator

Variety Act

Article excerpt

Theatre 2

Richard III

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

Roll up, roll up for Richard III! Yet again? This is the third time the RSC has tackled the play in less than five years. Is it on someone's exam syllabus, or are they just doing it for love?

In 1998 we had Robert Lindsay shuffling forward out of the snow into the wintry summer of his stand-up comedy routine. In 2001, more impressively, we had the play given in its rightful context as the sequel to the Henry VI trilogy and with the diminutive Aidan McArdle getting the balance between psychopathological evil and jokiness about right. And now there's Henry Goodman, fresh from playing Moliere's Tartuffe on Broadway and with his Shylock for Trevor Nunn at the RNT still the talk of the town. He last worked for the RSC in 1987 and his return will be a notable draw for Michael Boyd's new regime. Boyd has also wooed Judi Dench back - after 24 years - for the Countess of Roussillon in All's Well That Ends Well in December, and secured Antony Sher for Iago in a new Othello opening next February. Still missing, though, is the emergence of new talent nurtured by the company. It has been glimpsed in action (memorably so with Amanda Drew in Eastward Ho! and Naomi Frederick in As You Like It) but must also be wooed and given its chances.

If there's a problem with Henry Goodman's Richard, it's that nothing quite equals the audacity of his first appearance. We're at the circus, or possibly a louche music hall, with red velvet curtains drawn across the theatre's bare-brick proscenium. Through the curtains into a spotlight erupts Goodman as Osborne's Entertainer, with smart frock coat and topper. There opens up a heartening vision of the play as a sequence of wild circus turns. To caper 'nimbly in a lady's chamber', Goodman commands an appropriate waltz from the band and takes a turn or two.

Hating 'the idle pleasures of these days', he plunges into the audience, seizes and shreds a copy of the programme, demanding attention for the plots which he has laid. But then the real shock as he tears off a half-mask and sheds his finery to reveal a Richard as misshapen as you please, with withered arm, grotesquely lurching gait and lascivious leering grin.

But what next? Where to go from here? Director Sean Holmes does manage to keep the circus conceit going for quite a while, with ring-master Richard first announcing and then unveiling the tableaux into which he can step. …

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