Richard, My Richard

Most modern opinions of Richard III will fall under at least one of the following: murderer (of the princes- his two nephews- in the tower), “hunch-back’d like a toad” (courtesy of Shakespeare’s Richard III) or the Plantagenet King found buried under a car park in Leicester. Renowned historical novelist, Phillipa Gregory, in her debut play Richard, My Richard, sets out to retell Richard’s story.

Since the discovery of Richard’s remains, the character has been reclaimed by disabled actors and has been a hot topic this year with accusations of “crippling up” and how the role should not be open to all. Gregory herself made the decision to write the play about Richard as he was recorded at the time, “handsome, strong, slight” and “able-bodied” which is based on her own interpretation as well as historical research and archaeological evidence. But does it work, or does this simply take another role away from performers with disabilities?

Walking into the Cockpit Theatre of the Shakespeare North Playhouse, you are faced with a theatre in the round with beautiful wooden architecture, transporting the audience back to Shakespeare’s heyday. Staging by Richard Kent is sparse but practical and throughout is complimented by Philip Gladwell’s lighting design which perfectly aides with scene transitions in a click of ‘History’s’ fingers- facilitating our journey through past and present.

Gregory’s book is predominantly sleek and uses humour to explore the misogyny of history versus the modern day. (Some might say there’s no difference, but I digress.) The female characters are shown to be influential to their male counterparts, vastly different to previous iterations of Richard’s story. The characters are brought to life confidently with sarcastic undertones and jibes towards the Bard’s censored version of history under Tudor rule.

Throughout the play, History (Tom Kanji), the pompous misogynist, regularly breaks the fourth wall and sits amongst the audience as an observer of what really happened- helping to cement Gregory’s theme of, “history is no more true than for being written”. Kanji’s acting choices throughout give a comedic break from the, at times, jarring scenes.

In the titular role, Kyle Rowe has a commanding presence and has beautiful fluidity in his portrayal, bringing the character to life. The use of physical theatre by movement director Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster is sublime and Rowe tackles it head-on with physicality during his final scene.

Choreography is also a standout in History’s history lesson. Although pantoesque, the comedy lifts the mood and educates the audience of who’s who and where they fit in, boosting what could be a dry scene with pockets of laughter and audience participation.

The true star of the show is sound design by Beth Duke. From the powerful pre-show/interval soundtrack echoing through the theatre to the use of the glorious acoustics the theatre offers, this is a masterclass in what can sometimes be an overlooked discipline.

Overall, Richard, My Richard is a bold reimagined history lesson of artistic brilliance. Through Gregory’s seasoned writing and direction by Katie Posner, this is a standout production - giving a new generation of theatre goers a new generation of Richard, her Richard.

This show was reviewed on the 12th March 2024 at the Shakespeare North Playhouse where it runs until the 30th March 2024.  Tickets available here: Richard, My Richard | Shakespeare North Playhouse

Review written by Lee Gregory

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Photo credit: Patch Dolan

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