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The Theatreguide.London Review

Richard III
Arcola Theatre  Spring 2017

Greg Hicks has a great sneer. 

Second only to the late Alan Rickman, Hicks could sneer for Britain if it were an Olympic event. And sneering is a big part of what Shakespeare's Richard does. 

Hicks is also an excellent speaker of verse, and has a strong sense of where the humour lies, finding every possible wry joke in the text. 

The only thing missing in his Richard is the man's delight in his own villainy, the sense that he's having real fun being so nasty. And that gap keeps Greg Hicks's excellent Richard from being one of the greats. 

For this modern dress production, thankfully free of other anachronisms that too often tempt directors, like rifles and cell phones, director Mehmet Ergan and dramaturgs Jack Gamble and Jonathan Powell have intelligently clarified and trimmed the text, cutting or combining some minor characters and keeping the storyline clear and the play moving forward. 

Hicks and designer Anthony Lamble have chosen an original shape for Richard, with no humpback, but a hunched-over posture driven by the chain by which he lifts and moves his dead left leg. Not since Antony Sher's crutches three decades ago have I seen a Richard who so resembled the spider everyone calls him. 

But that lack of self-love and self-entertainment does limit Hicks's portayal, leaving us with the glummest Richard I've ever encountered, and depriving us of the confusion and naughty delight of actually enjoying watching him murder everyone who stands between him and the throne (and a few more, just because they're there). 

So, despite being onstage almost continuously, Hicks doesn't completely dominate the play as some other Richards have. And that's not entirely a bad thing, since it leaves more room for others to make an impression. 

If Georgina Rich's Anne is the cipher the character almost always is, Jane Bertish is one of the strongest Queen Margarets I've ever encountered. 

Margaret has two big scenes, one in which she curses everyone in sight and one in which she catalogues her griefs, and Bertish makes the first as deeply harrowing as the second is deeply moving. 

Peter Guinness makes Buckingham a confident schemer who discovers too late that he has been out of his depth from the beginning, and Matthew Sim as Catesby creates an ominous presence largely by being calmly present every time something bad happens. 

A mixed bag, then, this Richard III has a lot to recommend it but remains crippled by the absence of that one essential and sorely missed element.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Richard III - Arcola Theatre 2017

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