In the title role of MTC's production of Richard III, actor Ewen Leslie spits and snarls, dragging his bung leg over incredible revolving sets. The physicality he brings to the role is fearless; from furious heads shakes that muss up his very Hitler haircut to a one-handed climb up a cyclone fence in the final scene, his performance is nothing short of brilliant. He's got the grotesqueness down pat with a dose of sardonic wit as the scheming and murderous monarch.
Richard III is a long play - stretching almost three hours here - but I sat transfixed by the glorious spray of spittle and blood to the very last. Adapted as a 'contemporary political thriller,' it is startling to hear how the speeches of the ruling elite have changed so little in 400 years. Behind all that -icide (add prefix, it's all there - homicide, fratricide, infanticide) and marriage, the machinations and scheming wickedness that accompany an assent to the top ring all too familiar in today's world. When Richmond - who plans to usurp the cruel Richard using military force - stands to deliver his 'rousing the troops' monologue there are traces of Obama during the presidential election. Right down to the red tie/charcoal suit combo and Southern preacher gravity. Stylistically, the production could be a summary of the 20th Century classic style - sharp suits for males and Chanel jackets for the women. The sets are a mix of wood panelled board rooms and white-walled institution which rotate mechanically, allowing the action to flow seamlessly from scene to scene. This mostly grim tale is often lightened by unexpected humour. In one scene, a mobile phone beeps to which a character exclaims in ye olde English accent, "A messenger!" Shakespeare himself intended moments of mirth in Richard III and it translates well into the 21st century. Music and moving image are utilised well to progress the story and lend the play a textural richness.
In a solid cast, Jennifer Hagan (right) is a stand out performer. Her turn as Queen Margaret (here, as a ranting palliative care escapee complete with IV drip) was unique and unnerving - her voice lends her multiple characters a sort of beaten down rage.
Showing until 12th June, Sumner Theatre
Admittedly, I am somewhat unfamiliar with the majority of The Bard's canon. The closest I got to Shakespeare as a kid was dancing to Young Hearts Run Free (from Baz's film soundtrack to Romeo and Juliet), in a friend's garage. That and Zeffirelli's 1968 film, Romeo and Juliet. And seeing a modern theatre adaptation to Romeo and Juliet whilst studying said play (and let's not talk about Paltrow's movie, Shakespeare In Love).... you get the drift. But I'm hooked, this is gold.