Though Richard III is a historical play, The Old Globe’s production directed by Lindsay Posner is up-to-date and fast-paced.
Posner wanted the play to be contemporary and expose how today’s dictatorships are reflected in Richard III. The production emphasizes the text with Richard’s great soliloquies even though about an hour is cut from the play. (In the preview more of the play was performed, but was shortened again for the main performance.) The actors speak clearly with a quick rhythm, plus fight scenes directed by Steve Rankin keep the play interesting and add to the modern-day feel.
Jay Whittaker (Richard III) limps on stage with a thud from his leg brace, with a cocky attitude. He makes us listen to Richard’s reasoning of not being this good-looking guy, who is “rudely stamped,” and thus needs power to feel accomplished or adequate. Whittaker speaks to the audience and moves with his shoulder raised as if from a deformity caused by scoliosis and his left hand bent from cerebral palsy. He moves more naturally without prosthesis though his bent hand looks painful. (It has caused him some pain in his back and landed him in physical therapy.) Sympathy for Richard is short lived as Whittaker’s character disingenuously charms the audience by speaking of his conquests like it is all in fun. Whittaker circles his hips as he speaks of “delightful measures,” allowing for humor in heavy subjects. Whittaker is also this appalling character as he woos Vivia Font (Lady Anne) in front of her dead husband. Font is a ball of fire and electric as she is enraged and disgusted by Whittaker’s manipulation convincing her to marry him. The audience goes along with this crazy plot. There is also chemistry between Dana Green (Queen Elizabeth) and Whittaker as they throw words back and forth, not missing a beat. They move comfortably on stage as she tries to escape. They stand almost side by side as he grips her hand with their backs to the audience; he leans in for an unromantic kiss and she unwillingly gives him an angry kiss.
The audience is given even more reason to hate Richard for his treatment of people like they are part of a war campaign. Deborah Radloff (Duchess of York) is easily deceived by her son Richard. Radloff’s character is aged with white hair that makes her look sixty years old. (She says she doesn’t “play” old; instead, she trusts the audience will believe that she is old.) An ardent Robin Moseley (Queen Margaret) is the only one with any sense as she speaks the truth to all--including Richard--and tells them that they will say she prophesied the death and destruction. It takes Jacques C. Smith (Duke of Buckingham), after he has helped crown Richard III as king, a long time to realize he has been dutiful for nothing. Smith is an eager Duke, taking commands like a soldier, who has a large part in the play and keeps it moving with his energy.
The militant style is enhanced by scenic designer Ralph Funicello’s contemporary panels painted with smudged charcoal background and graffiti that reads “Free Revolution” and large eyes. In the scene of Richard III's coronation, posters cover the panels, in which Whittaker mounts a horse with a sword in hand with a tanker and missiles in the background and soldiers below. A red flag above him is stamped with a boar to represent Richard. In another, larger-than-life poster, Richard is standing crowned with his hand in the air like he is your everyday dictator, maybe someone like Muammar Gaddafi.
Costume designer Deirdre Clancy clothes Whittaker in black leather pants and jacket, giving him a tough appearance. As Whittaker became more obnoxious so do his clothes when he comes out in a copper pleather pants and jacket. The noble women are in morning, therefore, they wear conservative black attire with black thick heels. The army wears black police type uniforms and carry machine guns. More elaborate costumes are for the coronation of Lady Anne and Richard III. Her dress and his robe are made of deep red velvet adorned with gold ribbon.
This is an opportunity to see the work of British director Lindsay Posner, who has a background in classics and contemporary work, for the first time at The Old Globe. The contemporary feel of the stage and costume design enhance the focus of the text, so that Jay Whittaker drives the performance as the other actors support him. The Old Globe’s Richard III has an outstanding cast along with exciting direction which makes this historical tale less like a history lesson and more like thought-provoking entertainment.