1 of 2
Andrew Platner (left) as Richard III battles with Alex Miller as Richmond.
2 of 2
Andrew Platner is Richard III in the Henley Street/RichmondShakespeare produciton.
Shakespeare’s King Richard III, currently in production by the Richmond Shakespeare Festival component of the Henley Street company, should tweak some moments of relevancy for audiences who come to “antient” Agecroft Hall to see it.
The play is a mashup of House of Cards and Game of Thrones — without the mobile phones of the former and minus the dragons of the latter. Director James Alexander Bond doesn’t try to make these elements obvious, either—it’s played as a historical piece (though not stuffy) and without the effort to make it “modern.” What could be more contemporary than a power-mad usurper who gets away with so much for so long that he thinks he can keep at it without getting caught?
In addition, Kevin Spacey’s asides to the audience in Cards resemble those of Richard — and it’s not coincidental. Cards was first a British mini-series, Spacey played Richard III in 2012 and he appeared as himself and the Earl of Buckingham in Al Pacino’s 1996 docu-drama Looking For Richard. Spacey acknowledges the debt and how Shakespeare makes the audience Richard's (and Frank Underwood's) co-conspirator.
The currency of the play also comes from what’s reported as the unearthing of Richard III’s bones. And it also may have proved that Shakespeare embellished Richard’s deformities, such as they may have been. And the revelation of his skeleton revamped ages-old discussions about whether Richard was as bad as portrayed by “Tudor propaganda." They, after all, won.
But the programs at the Globe Theatre wouldn’t have included the get-out-of-trouble phrase, “Based On A True Story.”
After all, the play’s the thing.
This is early Shakesepare, and he uses blank verse that — when delivered on stage in the heat of the moment — sound so blunt and contemporary that you might think the actors are improvising. The rapid back-and-forth we associate with today's plays erupts in Act II, Scene IV, with emotional dexterity when Richard tries to persuade Queen Elizabeth to act as his “attorney” to her daughter Elizabeth and talk her into marriage ... even though Richard’s murdered half her family. When this production’s Richard, Andrew Platner, Molly Hood as Queen Elizabeth and Jacquie O’Conner (also Henley Street's managing director) as the Duchess of York go at it, you hold your breath like you're on a roller coaster.
Richard III is a family squabble. And nobody fights each other like blood relations. The Plantagenet bunch were dysfunctional in the best way: Viewed as a stage play rather than lived with or ruled by. (Though, as messed up as they were, they ruled England for 300 years. Think about that. Almost the length of time that Virginia's existed.) Still, with families, there are children, and Kerrick Sullivan convincingly plays both young Princess Elizabeth and Prince Edward and Zach Edicola is Prince York and one of those Shakespeare stalwarts, a page.
The strange and twisted seduction scene at the top of the play where the unguent and deliciously malevolent Richard woos Laura Rocklyn’s Lady Ann — recently widowed due to Richard’s machinations — is both awful and wonderful here.
It’s also fun to hear Richmond come up often, as Alex Miller is playing him, and at one point Queen Elizabeth advises Elliot Duffy’s Dorset, “If thou wilt outstrip death, go cross the seas / And live with Richmond, from the reach of hell / Go, hie thee, hie thee from this slaughter-house.”
Richard soon opines, his doubts starting to show:
"Richmond! When last I was at Exeter,
The mayor in courtesy show'd me the castle,
And call'd it Rougemont: at which name I started,
Because a bard of Ireland told me once
I should not live long after I saw Richmond. "
The last line caused some perhaps unintended chuckles of irony in the full house audience I attended.
Attending a play at Agecroft is not as moribund as Richard's musing on his mortality. The ambience for such a show cannot be matched hereabouts; the house stood in Shakespeare’s time and was saved from probable demolition by getting crated up and shipped to Windsor Farms. And the glowering gloom of dusk and night fulfills the expectation of a Shakespeare tragedy where everything goes black by the end.
And his plays have been performed in the courtyards of taverns and palaces. Come early for a picnic on the grounds and take in the view of the river. There are riser seats, but I prefer the floor. (The more visible sweat and spitting, the better.)
For information on the company, the cast and ticketing, go here.