MTC’s Richard III Review

In a  special piece here, Film Blerg’s James Madden reviews MTC’s production of Richard III.

This last Saturday, I attended the final performance of Melbourne Theatre Company’s Richard III, at MTC’s Sumner theatre. I was treated to a performance that you do not see on the stage that often.

“I have no brother, I am like no brother;

And this word ‘love’, which greybeards call divine,

Be resident in men like one another

And not in me: I am myself alone.”

An unquenchable, relentless, and stop-at-nothing drive to the throne is the basic premise behind Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Richard III. Set in contemporary times, Shakespeare’s historical play shows a natural universality. At the same time, director and MTC Artistic Director Simon Phillips notes that “[he] has been careful not to go too far in finding links to our own times…I’d hate anyone to read this production as a narrow allegory of recent characters and events”.

Phillips and his set designer Shaun Gurton have created a world that draws immediate parallels to Aaron Sorkin’s popular American political drama The West Wing. On a huge turntable, the set rotates, left and right, display many different settings for scenes, where the actors, in similar West Wing fashion, majestically pass and parade through.

Without giving too much of the story away, the brief reign of Richard III is achieved with the execution and grievous murders of those many souls standing in line to the throne. Ewan Leslie, fresh from his Helpman award-winning role in STC’s War of the Roses, creates such a complex and fascinating character out of the ruthless Richard. Dancing between maliciously insane, devilishly charming, and just plain evil, Leslie swings his body ceremoniously around the stage, yet with severe disability.

With a stellar cast of 16 playing twice as many roles, Richard III flies with brilliant performances from its leads. Amongst the murderous and murdering men are the long-suffering women. Allison Whyte gives a forceful performance as Elizabeth, Jennifer Hagan plays out eccentric and powerful soliloquies and Deidre Rubenstein gives the next best performance (to Leslie) playing Richard’s mother. Rubenstein shows off her astounding vocal skills in an impassioned monologue towards the end of the play.

Despite its modern-day setting, the language is still presented in the traditional Shakespearian dialogue, which always demands so much from those involved, not only in performing the piece, but in viewing it too. The cast, Phillips and MTC should be very proud of what was a wonderful performance.

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