Peer Review from Ian Miller


Ok all you wonderful folks out there, let’s do some alchemy… Well, it’s an odd kind of alchemy really, this time, instead of turning lead into gold, we’re going to turn gold into … Well, even more gold, albeit a tarnished and grubby kind of gold, served up in a cold and desolate wasteland.
So – for this unique spell, take one cold, bleak, disused factory, somewhere in Norwich – add a popular work of genius by a legendary playwright, throw in a rebel theatre company and its cast of hugely talented performers, splash in a dash of inspired direction before stirring with a generous stick made out of pure charity and you have ‘Richard 111’, as put on by local legends, Crude Apache.
In this production of Shakespeare’s epic Richard 111, Crude Apache and director Tim Lane have successfully lifted Shakespeare’s bloody and brutal tale of intrigue, murder, manipulation, revenge and Royal power play from its usual historical context and placed it, quite brilliantly – and brilliantly successfully, it must be said – in a dark and cold urban wasteland, a bleak cardboard city populated by vagrant vagabonds, mad mercenary murderers, ragged dukes, shabby earls, doomed princes, addict kings and a dark, twisted, crippled, ambitious pretender to the throne.
Think ‘London Below’ from Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’, and you’ll have a good idea how this gripping production looks and feels. The gloomy and threatening atmosphere is enhanced dramatically by the stark lighting – harsh and unforgiving sometimes, then reduced to the pinpoint glare of handheld spotlight-torches, highlighting faces and moments of high drama in their bright beams, beams which are then quickly shut off, leaving a residual silhouette of the last moments of the previous scene burned into the eyes of the audience.
By filling this production with a destitute monarchy and all its associated homeless hierarchy, this show is able to make full and fantastic use of its derelict factory setting. With the shivering audience, seated on three sides of the minimalist set, huddling together under blankets and wearing hats, gloves and coats, they look, for all the world, like homeless onlookers and could almost be part of the play.
The space Crude Apache have chosen to use here is cold – very cold, Spartan, and comfortless, but the cold and discomfort merely adds to the atmosphere and underlines the tragedy and discomfort of homelessness. So when you go to see this show, and I say ‘when’ because this show needs to be seen by as many people as possible, take a cushion and a blanket but do not be put off the experience by such things!
No excuses now – GO AND SEE THIS!
Full credit must go to the superb cast here, all of whom take on multiple roles, but manage to do so deftly and with proper definition of the different parts played, never allowing the action or the characters to become confused. All, that is, with the exception of the remarkable Russell J Turner, whose portrayal of the scheming, twisted, poisonous ‘bottled spider’ that is Richard Plantagenet is so charismatic and powerful that he commands attention wherever he hobbles on that cold, empty stage.
Special mention, in my opinion, should go firstly to Leighton Williams, whose scheming and ambitious Buckingham is frighteningly watchable and every bit as threatening, subtle and dangerous as his crippled master, until he too feels the sharp end of Richard’s wrath; and secondly to Joanna Swan, whose powerhouse Margaret commands the stage and brings a terrible, mesmerising energy to the space whenever she appears and delivers her, all-too accurate, prophesies, curses and bitter reproaches to the gathered protagonists. Both Williams and Swan also take on multiple roles and make their other characters equally memorable and as different from their main characters as they are from each other.
The hard, relentless and driving music, which opens and closes each act is perfectly pitched and the quiet incidental music which occasionally creeps in, almost subliminally, as a faded, spooky whisper accentuates the unquiet feel of this extraordinary show perfectly as it moves effortlessly from the famous opening speech right up to the raging crescendo that is the final battle scene. It’s a long play, with two intervals for the comfort of the audience, but it is worth every minute.
Add to this the donation of 25% of the profits from this play to Emmaus, the charity for the homeless and you have a huge number of reasons to make sure you go to see this great play.
Go and see it – you will not regret it.
Ian Miller

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