Richard III is compared to more animals than most of Shakespeare's characters – a dog, a hedgehog, a spider, a toad – and Greg Hicks somehow manages to channel them all in a performance of gripping intensity.
Hunched over in a leather jacket, Hicks’s Richard is a dog above all; a chain links his arm and his foot, a feral quality hangs over him. He literally drags himself around the stage, visibly shaking with the sheer effort required to stay upright. When he lies down to sleep on the eve of the climactic battle of Bosworth, it’s with the air of a man almost longing for the release of death.
Not a word is wasted in Mehmet Ergen’s unfussy, uncut production, and the intimacy of the Arcola’s three-sided stage is used to maximum effect by Hicks and an accomplished supporting cast. Matthew Sim’s brilliantly creepy Catesby slithers around like a bespectacled lizard; Sara Powell’s moving Queen Elizabeth buckles to the floor on learning of the loss of her sons in the tower.
Despite its modern flavour, Ergen doesn’t go overboard with the play’s all-too obvious contemporary parallels. Instead he takes a straightforward approach in a production rich with detail. The death of Clarence (Paul Kemp), often given short shrift, is lingering and brutal. After the murder of the young princes, Richard toys with one of their model aeroplanes. When Anne (Georgina Rich) spits in her murderous husband’s face, the globule remains.
The blocking at times feels repetitive and the pace can lag, especially during the early exchanges. But the second half builds to a stirring crescendo, helped along by Dinah Mullen’s impressive soundscape; by the time Richard’s body lies ready for the carpark there is the sense of a vice being released. That is testament to Hicks’s captivating central performance that stands with the best of recent times