Emily Carding and Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir’s adaptation of Richard III is a smart, sparse, stripped back version of the text built around Carding’s utterly compelling performance.
With slicked back hair and a business suit, this is a thoroughly modern monarch – he celebrates wooing Anne with a selfie and gets battle status updates on his iPhone, spinning around the compact space on an office swivel chair. Veering between oleaginous charm and gleeful malice as he ascends to power, then disintegrating into paranoia once he has seized it, this feels like a properly dangerous Richard, made even more disconcerting when played out at such close quarters.
The audience are allocated the other key roles, a strategy which has the potential to go awry, but luckily we have little to do other than occasionally stand and (mostly) silently react, and Carding dispels any awkwardness with well-placed asides.
The piece works better in some scenes than others. The winning of Anne and her subsequent discarding are surprisingly effective when she is rendered speechless, but the pre-battle set up where Richard’s victims haunt him feels a little flat when we cannot hear their accusations. Paring back the text to one speaker means inevitably some of its richness is lost: with everyone else reduced to mute players, you realise how much of the original’s dynamism stems from Richard’s cleverly crafted interaction with others, his verbal dexterity a reaction to those around him. But overall, the approach pays off, creating a potent distillation of one of theatre’s greatest villains.