The market for Ian Dixon Potter’s play is clear. If you like your history, you’ll enjoy this show. As writer and co-director (with Courtney Larkin), Dixon Potter’s sense of purpose is dogged: to rehabilitate Richard III and set the record straight. If the monarch’s maligned reputation gets you riled, your passion should be satiated here.
For everyone else, the play has problems. Pretty much the whole script is exposition. We have Richard addressing the audience as troops, before the battle of Bosworth, as well as two sniffing soldiers, acting as a chorus – but no action. Too many facts and too much back story are compacted into the characters’ speeches. Some lines are so clunky, I felt like cheering the cast when they got through them. Credit where it’s due, though: the politics are clearly presented and the detail scrupulous. Unfortunately, it’s all closer to a history lesson than a play.
More seriously, Dixon Potter fails in his aim of making us think again about Richard, by recreating him as an unbelievable goody two-shoes. Nicholas Koy Santillo bravely tackles the title role, showing the king’s cold legalistic mind, but is given little to work with and a very bad wig.
It’s often said the devil has the best lines, which isn’t saying much here, but the most interesting characters are those who take over from the King as villains. There’s a vain and duplicitous Buckingham, who Ben Harper adds a fun camp touch to, and, better still, two great roles for women.
Catherine Dunne is superb as Elizabeth Woodville, running rings around the men who step into her path, with a sensual edge that adds tension to her scenes. Zara Banks gives a similarly delicious performance as a Machiavellian Margaret Beaufort, bringing her lapdog son Henry Tudor to heel. Whether these women really had the power Dixon Potter supposes is the starting point for another debate. Dunne and Banks certainly lift the play. It’s a shame that their scenes are the only time that you feel you are leaving the classroom.
Until 20 December 2015