The Theatreguide.London Review
Donmar Warehouse Theatre Winter 2019-2020
This is a play that
isn't about what it says it's about. And that's no bad thing. It
lures us into expecting one thing and then pleasantly surprises us
with something even better.
Set in an American high
announces from the very first line ('Now that the winter formal gives
way to glorious spring fling...') that it's going to be a parody of
Shakespeare's Richard III.
School outcast Richard
is determined to
defeat football star Eddie to become class president, eliminating
anyone else who is in his way.
But somewhere along that
playwright Mike Lew pulls the action and the characters away from
Shakespeare, taking them into new and intriguing psychological
Crookback, young Richard is not a
natural villain. He has to work himself up to righteous anger and
determination, and is as surprised as we are to find himself
His gal-pal Buck, while generally on his side, keeps suggesting that he bypass dirty tricks and fight Eddie fair and square, and Richard does give it a try. Part of his plot involves stealing Eddie's ex-girlfriend Anne, and Richard is confused to discover both that she's quite a nice girl and that he is inclined to be a nice guy with her.
Richard is pulled back and forth between the temptations of virtue and villainy, and while I won't give away where he ends up, that internal battle is psychologically believable and dramatically involving.
(As the play
progresses, you may spot that
its real resemblance is to the musical Dear Evan Hansen. Both are
about teenage losers lured by the unexpected possibility of power and
love, and confused by the moral questions those rewards raise.)
the playwright's insistence, the roles of Richard and Buck are to be
played by actors with actual physical disabilities.
Here Daniel Monks
has the partial paralysis of a brain injury, while Ruth Madeley is in
a wheelchair, and in a programme note Mike Lew reports making
occasional alterations to the text (originally written for an actor
with cerebral palsy) to better fit them.
There is no question
the actors bring a special authenticity to their roles, as well as
particular dramatic power. An emotional climax of the play comes when
Richard has occasion to demonstrate how much physical ability he has
within his limits, and the moment is the actor's triumph as well as
But entirely apart from
his disability, Monks
captures Richard's mix of youthful exuberance, anger and confusion as
he discovers emotional and moral depths he had not expected in
As Anne, Siena Kelly is
touching and convincing as one of
the school's golden Cool Kids navigating the discovery that she too
is more emotionally complex and mature than she and we suspected.
III is one of his greatest plays, and its
portrait of a witty and determined malignant genius is in no way
threatened by Mike Lew.
But at this time in this place, a play about a boy discovering his capacity for both good and bad, and trying to decide between them, makes for an engrossing and very satisfying drama.
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