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Richard III review at Perth Theatre – ‘the thrill of villainy’

Joseph Arkley in Richard III at Perth Theatre. Photo: Tommy Ga Ken Wan Joseph Arkley in Richard III at Perth Theatre. Photo: Tommy Ga Ken Wan
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In a time of Facebook rumour, fake news and false narratives, director Lu Kemp’s Richard III provides a reminder that such lies are not new, nor are they dependent on computers or social media for their traction.

Kemp goes for maximum clarity in a production that carries its audience forward on a wave of complicity with Joseph Arkley’s knowing, dissembling Richard. Arkley explains exactly what lies he is about to tell, before setting about telling them with a louche raising of his eyebrow to the public.

It is the thrill of villainy which Arkley catches so well. Sympathy for Mercy Ojelade’s wrathful Lady Anne, thunderously berating Richard for the murder of her husband and her father, dissipates in the face of Arkley’s wheedling into her favour. Machiavellian is not the half of it.

Richard’s disposal of his older brothers and other barriers to his accession to the throne is casually told in front of – and sometimes masked by – Natasha Jenkins’ spare design of curtains drawn across the stage. Stevie Jones’ sound design underlines the action well.

The detail lies in Kemp’s direction, her use of action away from the beautifully spoken dialogue. The quality of her ensemble becomes evident as the initial lightness gives way to a properly dark second half where the role of the court as enablers to Richard’s wilful destruction becomes clear.

Tom McGovern’s taciturn Brackenbury, Michael Moreland’s loyal Buckingham and Martin McCormick’s vicious Catesby all catch the eye, but it is the lone resistance of Meg Fraser, as Elizabeth, that drives Kemp’s meaning home.

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Beautifully clear take on Shakespeare’s play that has obvious echoes in contemporary events