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The Life and Death of Puppet King Richard II review at the Cave, Brighton – ‘impishly creative’

Gregory Gudgeon in The Life and Death of Puppet King Richard II at the Cave, Brighton. Photo: Kaja Curtis
Gregory Gudgeon in The Life and Death of Puppet King Richard II at the Cave, Brighton. Photo: Kaja Curtis
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This pocket epic takes place at an atmospheric new venue at the Brighton Fringe. The Cave is a tiny walled courtyard in the basement of a Brighton gallery, and you can smell its mossy stone walls and hear the birds above as you watch Richard II ruminate away his final hours, imprisoned in Pomfret Castle.

The Life and Death of Puppet King Richard II, Gregory Gudgeon’s impishly creative take on Shakespeare’s play is virtually a one-man show. The Globe, RSC and Complicite actor plays Richard in a purple shellsuit, his face and hair white with clay. He also voices most of the rest of the cast, represented by rudimentary puppets.

The set-up captures Richard’s playful and capricious character – and his ensuing sense of desertion. You know you’re on-the-out when you’re talking to a shoe horn and even the three wooden spoons have turned traitor.

In the first half Richard pulls the strings, playing scenes Punch and Judy style through the opening of the venue’s candle-lit coal cellar. In the second, as his power wanes, the puppets break out into the space.

Soon Richard is staggering with a knife in his back towards the sound-deck (“Do I press fast forward and play, or just play?” Gudgeon asks of his vocal on-stage stage manager) and the woollen heads of Bolingbroke’s remaining enemies are mounted on a mug tree.

The deliberate amateurism is amusing, but the antic pace blurs Gudgeon’s skills as a performer. He could allow himself a bit more pause for morbidity and melancholy, as when his black gloved hand twists slowly and chillingly up through Richard’s ‘hollow crown’.

 

Verdict
Impishly creative almost-solo staging of Shakespeare’s tragedy
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