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Richard III review at the Arcola Theatre, London – ‘a fine, febrile performance’

Greg Hicks and Georgina Rich in Richard lll at Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Greg Hicks and Georgina Rich in Richard lll at Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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It’s ambitious, to stage Richard III in the Arcola Theatre’s intimate main space, but it’s also injudicious.

Mehmet Ergan’s unimaginative production is caught between two stools, lacking both the space to revel in the play’s majestic scope, and the daring to shed fresh light on it. It’s a conventional staging, enlivened only by a fine, febrile central performance from RSC associate Greg Hicks as the eponymous schemer.

There is, perhaps, an attempt at boldness. Anthony Lamble’s multi-level set – a bare stage, two mirrored pillars, and a fire escape on wheels – has a Spartan brutality, and there’s a hint of leather-jacketed, flat-capped, Guy Richie swagger in his costuming.  But there’s also a conventional plethora of flags and long-coats, and Dinah Mullen’s sound is full of bland, trumpeted battle calls.

This awkwardness extends to the casting. Sara Powell catches the disillusioned despair of Elizabeth, and Matthew Sim is an enjoyably clinical Catesby, but elsewhere there is just too many white, middle-aged men talking Shakespearean politics at each other.

Hicks’ Richard is the production’s saving grace. Looking like a hunched Vinny Jones channelling Christopher Walken, he successfully mines the text’s rich vein of dark humour, simultaneously feral and flamboyant. A shame that such a rollickingly good Richard is wasted at such a bland Bosworth.

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An unimaginative staging redeemed by Greg Hicks' feral central performance