Theatre Review: Is Now the Winter of Our Discontent?


Richard III, written by William Shakespeare; produced by Trafalgar Transformed: seen July 1, 2014

Let’s get this out of the way: anyone who knows me knows I’m a bit of a fan of Martin Freeman. So, I could watch him read a phonebook and probably would praise it to the theatre gods. In fact, it was the chance to see him perform in person that made me giggle like a 12 year old with a schoolgirl crush when I booked a seat on the bloody stage for the first night of previews.

A fierce and unusual interpretation, Richard III gives Martin Freeman a chance to shine. Setting it in the 1970s gives it a bit of a gimmicky vibe, with the disco suits and the neon lighting. Thankfully, the acting all around had me buy into it fairly quickly. Lauren O’Neil especially, as Lady Anne, does a great job reacting to Freeman’s Richard, giving their relationship a creepy edge. But Freeman acts best in the subtle moments, and being able to see such moments in real life made the show.

Not being that familiar with what the political situation in London during the ’70s was like, combined with only being tangentially familiar with the origin story of Richard III himself, I found the plot a little difficult to follow at times. Thankfully, Shakespeare is Shakespeare, and while the character list gets a little overwhelming at times, I didn’t get lost for too long.

While warned it was a bloody show, it was more violent than bloody (best part of setting your play in the ’70s? Death by phone cord). When I went to the stage after to get an autograph, I talked to someone who was in the front row who got splattered by the blood – there was barely a bit on him, not nearly enough for the warnings in my opinion. (Of course, I’ve been to shows that have needed splashguards – so maybe I’m spoiled.)

Martin Freeman. Photo courtesy Trafalgar Transformed
Martin Freeman. Photo courtesy Trafalgar Transformed

My biggest issue with the production, however, was in the staging of it. While being on stage had the perks of being THIS close to Freeman and being able to now say I’ve literally shared a stage with the man, those was really the only perks. The direction seemed to forget there would be audience members there, and staged the production as if the seating on stage was more of an afterthought. Directed in typical proscenium-style way, there was only an occasional moment here and there that brought the attention my way.

The worst was a couple of scenes that were staged in front of the proscenium, and – as a sort of inclusion of us souls on the stage – a television set was pulled out in front of the rear audience so we could watch as if we were watching it on real TV. However, it was at stage level, which when combined with the set up of the stage seating meant that no one past the second row could see any of it. So, I felt I lost a lot of the action and therefore missed a lot of the show. If I can afford it, I would like to see it again, but this time from the house – to see if my feelings for the production change based on seeing it from the other side.

Freeman, no doubt, took on the role of Richard III in his current quest to prove he can do more than play the everyman character he gets typecast as. Having seen the other reviews coming out, I’m not quite sure he succeeded.

So, I can’t tell you whether you should catch it or not should you be in London during it’s run. I loved the production, but I don’t honestly know how much of that was my inherent bias for the man. But if you’re a fan of him at all, you won’t be disappointed.

Richard III runs until September 27 at Trafalgar Transformed. For more information, visit Trafalgar Transformed’s website.