05 October 2014

Theatrical Delights: Different perspective, different outcomes.

One week. One week after seeing the piece of Richard III at Trafalgar Studios, and I still couldn't make sense of what I had witnessed.  Directed by Jamie Lloyd and starring Martin Freeman in his first professional Shakespeare role, this modern take on Richard III turned my understanding of The Bard upside down. Lloyd's adaptations are known for doing just that and this was no exception.
I love Shakespeare.  I am a fan of Martin Freeman's work.  I was excited about the play, but I walked out of my initial viewing of Richard III confused.  Set in 1970s England, I couldn't wrap my head around a decade where I was not around or certainly too young to remember anything that happened, particularly across the pond.   Oddly enough,  this adaptation set in fairly modern times lost me just as much as it may have if it was set in its original time period.

I have gotten past not knowing the time period before, after all every piece of Shakespeare was of course written hundreds of years ago, therefore, this wasn't the issue; how it was put together to take hold of and keep an audience throughout the story that makes good theatre.

The staging of Richard III made this most difficult.  Stage designer, Soutra Glimour's scene was difficult to grasp for this adaptation. The 1970's office meeting room style with its large, intruding, bulky brown conference tables, and vomit-colored green swivel chairs made the committee room as un-navigable as the battlefield it would later portray.  I had to give kudos to the cast for being able to work around that set and not get bruised and battered by bumping into desk corners every night and, in general, working within such a small confounding space when they originally had a good-sized stage.

Luckily, casting did make the staging, and therefore, the story and adaptation work.  Freeman's 'first professional' Shakespearan performance was an unforgettable experience.  This role worked in his favour as he was able to bring out all the tools in his arsnel including that Martin Freeman ability to say a thousand words with one look giving Richard that air of carefully plotted revenge; an image that fits well in the 20th Century.  The language also flowed as easily from him as Tolkien's or even Conan Doyle's do, and I found myself astounded at the grace and speed with which it was all delivered.  Buckingham, played by Jo Stone-Fewing,was a great right-hand to Freeman's Richard.  While Gina McKee (who I recognised from Notting Hill) brought a stoic bravery to Queen Elizabeth who could not control what was going on around her.

As with many things twice is better than once.  One month later,I decided to give Richard another try.  Revist him again from another perspective.  Delightfully, much of my misgivings from first impressions where laid to rest the second time around.  It all could have been a matter of perspective.  The time period still wasn't much clearer, although with the help of the theatre programme a bit more understandable, and the staging hadn't changed and still posed an obstacle, but I had moved from the front seating to the seating on the stage itself: the one bit of different staging that seemed to work.  From this vantage, I was able to really see the performers and their use of the awkward space, Freeman's facial gesture's came to life even more, and I left with the second time around with more appreciation for the story and this particular adaptation.