Ralph Fiennes’s dark performance dominates a powerfully claustrophobic productionby Sameer Rahim / June 21, 2016 / Leave a comment
It was inevitable, I suppose, that a new production of Shakespeare’s Richard III would allude to the famous discovery in a Leicester car park in 2013. Director Rupert Goold begins his production at the Almeida in North London with men in forensic gear digging up England’s most infamous king—his skull brought up from the grave looking like a sinister Yorick. Then comes a further trophy, the curved spine that so disappointed the Richard III society, which were convinced the king’s disability was Tudor propaganda. I couldn’t help thinking of the warning on Shakespeare’s grave in Stratford: “Blessed be the man that spares these stones, / And cursed be he that moves my bones.” We had disturbed Richard’s spirit, and our punishment was to be made complicit with his evil, as Ralph Fiennes took us into his confidence in the famous opening monologue, “Now is the winter of our discontent, / made glorious summer by this sun of York…”
There’s a good argument that Richard III, written in about 1591, was the first of Shakespeare’s plays to show his genius. Yet it still has flaws: it’s far too long for one thing, and is always cut in performance—as it was here, sometimes well and sometimes not so well. The scene where Richard woos Lady Anne after killing her father and husband is a brilliant idea but unconvincing on stage. (Here Fiennes, playing Richard as a crabbed psychopath rather than a smooth-talking Machievel in the tradition of Laurence Olivier, does his best but cannot rescue the scene.) There are far too many characters; and the appearance of Richard’s arch-rival Richmond, the rather bland future Henry VII, is too late in the play to make their rivalry interesting.