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Richard III review at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds – ‘visually impressive’

Richard III at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Photo: Anthony Robling Richard III at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Photo: Anthony Robling
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With a team of masked abattoir workers hosing down puddles of blood to the sound of cool 1950s jazz, the ghastly cost of the Wars of the Roses is laid bare in Mark Rosenblatt’s new production even before Reece Dinsdale’s malevolent Richard utters a single word of the opening soliloquy – or begins to add his own escalating gore score to the body count.

It’s a nightmarish and auspicious opening to a visually startling production that promises plenty of treacherous plotting, political assassinations and tyrannical power-gaming but, as a dramatic study of personal ambition gone insane, is not quite as dagger-sharp in the telling.

The multi role-ing and gender-swapping by a reduced cast involves numerous rapid costume changes; but this also means that it’s often unclear who’s hating who and why within the hierarchy of interrelated royals and nobles, especially when some characters are missing and key lines of dialogue are relayed through microphones or delivered over the telephone. 

Conor Murphy’s vast contemporary looking and weirdly clinical set is an incredibly effective circle of hell a shadowy lit killing space which allows Dinsdale’s sideways-limping Richard plenty of wriggle-room to scuttle around like a “bottled spider” while poking his walking stick at everyone as if it was a demonic wand. 

Sporting a nasty little Saddam moustache and a supercilious officer-class drawl, Dinsdale certainly conveys a man ensnared by his own crooked malevolence, although it’s a performance that tends to over-egg the barnstorming histrionic side of a “dreadful minister of hell” rather than explore the inner madness of King Richard.   

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A visually impressive new production of one of Shakespeare’s most bloodthirsty plays opens the Playhouse’s autumn season