VAGABONDS, RASCALS, AND RUNAWAYS – A REVIEW OF CRUDE APACHE’S RICHARD III
Director Tim Lane’s adaptation of Richard III is bone-chilling—and that’s not only down to the lack of heating in the Shoe Factory Social Club in Norwich. Shakespeare’s story of the wicked and rapacious King Richard is superbly located by Crude Apache in the disused factory space, which has been turned into a frightening vision of the future, an urban hinterland where people live in makeshift communities of cardboard boxes and behind wire fences. Exposed lights, metal girders and old sofas furbish the old factory; I could have been inside a modish bar in Hackney, or a punk squat in Berlin. The thumping techno beats made it all the more ethereal, and for a moment I was back at an illegal rave I once went to when I was twenty, except this one sold gin and tonics and cups of tea.
When I crossed the concrete performance space to take my seat I nearly stepped on a cast member huddled inside a box, and jumped when the shape shuffled in front of me. I was prompted to think about the many people whose realities are like this, the homeless men and women who become faceless shapes on cold tarmac, objects to be stepped over. And that’s why Crude Apache’s decision to donate 25% of their profits to the Emmaus homeless charity makes this a theatre production with integrity. Rehearsals must have been gruelling for the actors: cold, dark and uncomfortable. That they had the foresight to think beyond the limits of the performance space is commendable, as was their commitment to Shakespeare’s reformation play: they did a solid job of performing an entirely unabridged version, depicting the short and bloody reign of King Richard III.
Russell J. Turner plays a wonderfully loathsome Richard, a hunchbacked down-and-out in a black trench coat who signals each entrance with the baleful thunk-thunk of his crutch on the concrete and a dagger slipped into its strap. His two murderer-messengers played by Jenny Belsey and Joanna Swan are equally malignant, and deliver their lines in sinister sing-song. They take perverse pleasure in the killing of Richard’s brother, Clarence, and his two young nephews who all stand in the way of Richard’s rise to power. The rattle of a chain, the plunge of a syringe into the necks of sleeping children. Tim Lane holds nothing back in envisioning what the power-hungry will do to get what they want. The murderers are are rewarded with bags of white powder, skipping happily off-stage like faithful Alsatians. I could almost see a tail wagging.
The notion of conscience and cowardice is a theme throughout many of Shakespeare’s plays, and King Richard’s remarks on the battlefield—“Let not our babbling dreams affright our souls: Conscience is but a word that cowards use”— are later mirrored by Hamlet—“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.” As we enter a strange and hateful period of our own history, where Donald Trumps and Nigel Farages hold global centre stage, the notion that conscience existing to guide morality and human progress, is all the more prescient.
Joanna Swan’s old Queen Margaret is particularly memorable, and her hate-ridden opening speech has some of the play’s best lines: “From forth the kennel of thy womb hath crept a hell-hound that doth hunt us all to death.” She is a victim of her gender in 16th century England, widowed and with no physical or political power. Her characterization as a bag-lady dressed in a shapeless coat and an incongruous pill-box hat with crumpled fascinator makes her all the more an image of the pitiful. It is hard not to despise what society has done to her.
But no-one is truly innocent in this play—except perhaps the two young princes who died before the world had a chance to corrupt them. Nothing can ever be good again, and this cataclysmic despair is finely evident in all aspects of Crude Apache’s production, from the clamorous soundtrack and blinding torch lights, to the pathetic cries of King Richard as he begs for a horse to take him off the battlefield where he meets his violent end.
But if you purchase a ticket before December 3rd, then at least you’ll know that something is trying to be put right in the Company’s support for the Emmaus homeless charity.
Hannah Rose – Norwich Radical