On Sunday, my fiancé and I went to see a production of Richard III at the Athenaeum theater. It was the closing afternoon of the show. It was an interesting show that presented some unusual issues.
Richard III is a fun, dark play. It’s my fiancé’s favorite Shakespeare play and I’m quite fond of it too. Richard is such a great villain who makes you complicit in his crimes. And he’s a villain because he feels like it. Other Shakespeare villains have reasons for their mischief. Even Iago felt slighted by a missed promotion. But Richard III chooses to be evil and you love him for it. I actually got annoyed that he started to repent in the end. I wanted my villain to remain true to himself. Blood, sin, and all.
This production had a fantastic Richard III. He was suitably smarmy and slimy. He wooed well but managed to convey all the corruption and guile through his sweet lips. There was one fantastic scene when Richard III held the slain Edward’s bloody skull while laughing at his easy wooing of Edward’s widow Anne. It harkened to Hamlet’s poor Yorick scene but this was deliciously dark. The actress who played Queen Elizabeth was also great. I felt the full weight of her grief and sorrow for her loss. She’s the only voice of reason in the entire play. It’s kinda neat to cheer for both characters who are so diametrically opposed from one another.
However, the problem with the play was the staging. I hated it. The set seemed suited for a serial killer’s nest. There was plastic sheeting hanging from three-quarters of the stage. At various intervals, there were black Xs made from tape randomly festooned to this plastic curtain. On both sides of the set, spilling into the aisle, there were trash bags, ladders, and more plastic. It was a statement. I expected blood to fall across the curtains. And thankfully, that didn’t really happen. The only bit that worked with the staging was when two characters drag bodies wrapped in plastic to put in the rubbish piles. It was creepy, but effective. But it was not worth the staging. It really distracted me during the entire play.
I’ve seen Shakespearean performances with minimal setting that have worked. We saw Richard II at the Athenaeum two years ago that used chalk as a key part of the set. And that worked. Here, if they had chosen to use a real curtain, maybe a royal red or purple, that would have been fine. But the plastic sheeting and garbage bags just looked sloppy and unsettling. Maybe that’s what the director wanted but I hated it.
The other issue was the costumes. There wasn’t a lot of reason to it. Queen Elizabeth wore a medieval style dress while everyone else wore modern wear. Either have everyone in modern outfits or have no one in modern outfits. I think Richard III would work well with suits and all. Richard III worked in a three-piece suit. But the mix mash of outfits was rather jarring.
So it was an interesting production to say the least. I still had fun with this evil Richard. But I hope that the staging will be better suited in the future.