Richard III, Rose theatre Kingston , 2023
Photo: Manuel Harlan
  • Theatre, Shakespeare

Richard III

Adjoa Andoh follows up her excellent Richard II with this messy, malfunctioning take on his diabolical namesake

Anya Ryan

Time Out says

In the programme for her production of ‘Richard III’, Black actor and director Adjoa Andoh describes growing up in the 1960s and ’70s in the overwhelmingly white, rural Cotswolds.  It is a ‘particular experience to be raised in an environment where you are so obviously visually different to everyone else,’ she writes. These feelings inspire this reimagining of Shakespeare’s anti-hero-led history play, which has been set in a maypole-dancing West Country village. It’s very promising in theory, following on as it does from her acclaimed 2019 production of ‘Richard II’ at the Globe. But perhaps because it lacks the steadying hand of the previous production’s co-director Lynette Linton, this ultimately acomes across as a mismatch of badly braided visions. 

Andoh’s racially viewed take has logic. Throughout the play, Shakespeare’s descriptions of Richard can easily be tied to racist views of Blackness; he’s named ‘hell’s black intelligencer’, as well as something ‘dogs bark at’. And among a sea of white faces, Andoh certainly stands out. The production though is leaden and loses much of Richard’s evilness. His instructed killings are masked behind a shadow screen and distorted further by unconvincing screams. Some of his most famous lines are replaced by songs; Richard’s opening ‘winter of our discontent’ speech is wasted on a hollering chorus.

Andoh is still a beguiling actor. Her Richard dances between knowing comedy and diabolical scheming. His lines are delivered with zip and zeal. Her eyes bulge, wide, as she speaks. With such exuberance, Richard’s charm bubbles to the surface. What we don’t get though is his innate rage and desire to prove himself after years subjected to isolation and torment - and in a rendition that relies so heavily on his otherness, we need it.

It is a shouty, unvaried few hours that eventually leaves you feeling apathetic. Most disorientating though is the design. Performed on a largely bare stage created by Amelia Jane Hankin, the actors are squashed together amongst three immense, stifling wooden trees. The only option is for them to fall into a line across the stage to present the sluggish scenes. With each new section I hoped for more excitement. It never delivered.

Instead, we’re left with a bizarre sound accompaniment composed by Yeofi Andoh. From folky tunes early on we move to an electronic buzz that is supposed to signify brewing horror. Rather, it feels like we’ve stepped foot into a badly produced episode of ‘Doctor Who’. All of it is ill-considered. There’s even the random inclusion of a puppet, taking the role of the young Duke of York. But with no obvious reason for its inclusion, it just feels a bit daft and facetious.

It feels like this one needs more time in the rehearsal room because, on paper, it is glisteningly promising. But in its current state, it is Shakespeare in disarray.


£15-£50. Runs 3hr
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