Double-edged irony of the Richards


Richard III is a more typical and triumphantly successful Hands production. It is almost extravagantly inventive, crammed with powerful imagery, some lurid, some hauntingly delicate. It also contains a plethora of fine performances. Richard Pasco's beautifully-spoken Clarence, Joe Melia's sly murderer, Bruce Purchase's hearty, honest Hastings and Derek Godfrey's icy, ultra-civilised Buckingham.

Shakespeare's play is replete with horror and grotesque comedy. Terry Hands, not content to allow the outrageous story to make its own effect, takes each scene one step further beyond the bounds of the expected and the sane.

It is not only horror that is given extra emphasis. We know that Richard has a snobbish contempt for Edward's less than aristocratic queen, Domini Blythe, in the play's early scenes, has a Midlands accent, too much make-up and a large and foolish handbag which keeps getting in her way.

Richard III

Howard is a regal, dangerous and very angry Richard. Instead of a hunchback, he has a game leg and a permanently gloved hand with a dagger built in. He is irascible and violent, a man bearing constant pain with courage but without patience. He is getting his own back on the world.

Howard times his outbursts of rage precisely and then lets loose with awesome violence. He uses his ability to dominate the stage to terrifying effect. It seems quite credible that all those protesting lords and weeping ladies would have stood helplessly by to watch his crimes. He is superhuman.

It is a performance which chimes perfectly with Hands's vision. When the infant York leaps on his crippled uncle's shoulders, Howard stands up, a maddened animal, and whirls round, trying to throw the child. A bystanding lord rescues the little prince and the scene ends in horrified embarrassment. It is an inspired touch and Howard carries iy out with frightening conviction.

Something is lost among all these exaggerated effects: the refinement of irony, the menace of the man who kills with a smile, in fact the quality which so notably distinguished the Rustavali company's beautiful and subtle production seen in London earlier this year.

But, if Hands's method has its limitations, his production, exhilarating for its speed and savagery, breathtaking for its audacious vulgarity, is always thrilling.

Lucy Hughes Hallett

Now! Review, 14.11.80

Playing Shakespeare/Richard III