[Review:] MY OTHER SELF: THE EVOLUTION OF SHAKESPEARE’S RICHARD III, The Cockpit, London.

Unfortunately, there is very little positive I have to say about this performance, but I will start with the good-ish comments that I have.

In the overture, the audience are confronted with a spot-lit, centerstage stool upon which sits a crown. A rather thick mist consumes the air, and suspenseful classical music (Kai Everington) plays. This is a good beginning, evoking the content and focal point of the play very well in the simplicity of this powerful and stagnant image. The blackout (lighting by Ricky McFadden) and sound of King Richard’s footsteps which follow are just as atmospheric. However, the crown could have been aligned better with the centerpoint of the stool, and the music should be allowed to fade entirely before anyone enters the stage. It is such pedantic features which discern the seasoned from the novices.

What follows is an overstated line-share between the ensemble who creep about each other concentrically. Here is my first true issue with the play. This monologue is originally intended for the audience’s ears, but should the ensemble wish to deliver it to each other, that would also be fine. But you cannot do both. Actors’ address alternated between audience members and fellow members of the ensemble, making for a stylistic disconnect. This was an issue which occurred a few times throughout the performance. Decide who you are addressing your lines to and stick with it.

Also on the matter of lines, it was clear, as per usual, that some actors did not understand their own, or there were moments when the lines did not entirely match the action, such as when characters told others to “be still” and yet there was very little visible agitation in the first place. As tirelessly often the case with Shakespeare, actors in this performance either overplayed or downplayed. Energy, admittedly, was unfaltering, but it is where this energy was going that was the problem.

As for physicality, actors could have also greatly improved. Representations of disfigurement were OK but could have been made even more grotesque than a simple limp or arched back. This is where costume, the likes of which I shall detail shortly, could have come in handy. That such themes like these are permitted to continue in modern theatre just for the name of their originator is strange to me, but that is more an issue of personal politics. Then there are the fight scenes. I have never yet experienced a fight scene wherein fighting practically does not take place. I am sad to say that Matt Coulton, director movement and fights, was very misguided in this way. A simple shout and a charge does not constitute a dramatic or engaging battle, not to mention the chosen weaponry which I shall also detail later. Not only were these moments of action completely dissatisfying in terms of visual impact, but whenever there was [finally!] such a moment, its duration was less than a minute. A similar dissatisfaction can be found in death scenes: short, lacklustre, unrealistic and bizarre, especially when sword-stabbing is represented by positioning the sword between the arm and the body…

Pacing! When actors are unsure of what to do when they have no lines, if they feel uncomfortable being in the limelight, or if they have not rehearsed retentively enough how to act when dialoguing with another actor, you will find that they pace. Their feet begin to shuffle, they wobble from side to side, all in an attempt to remain lively and engaging. They feel they need to move for their personal performance to be enjoyable and impactful. Pacing was a massive issue in this performance. Everybody paced! Confidently assume your postures and positions, your personae and your intentions. Find a stance and stay in it. Facial expression is enough to carry your otherwise silent performance. Do not move too much but also do not freeze. However, if you do find that you feel you have no presence or reason to be, this is a directorial fault, and your character should not be on stage at all. Pointless onlookers, especially in Shakespeare, are those which disease the stage.

Costumes (Simon Stewart), like most elements of this performance for me, were utterly inadequate. Not only did they signal a multiplicity of time periods, they were also assembled with very little effort or care. I cannot begin to fathom why skinny jeans and canvas shoes, belts and turtlenecks were permitted to worm their way into this performance. And what did actually exist of the costume was relative of fancy dress.

Then the props, another complete mismatch of thick, bulky wooden swords and slimline, painted plastic ones. The sack containing the severed head… why is it so obviously unfirm and un-head-like? It felt as though the visuals of this performance, minus that of the overture, were significantly overlooked and secondary, yet they are so undeniably vital to this [visual] art form. I will say, however, that the use of puppetry was most endearing, and the manner in which they were characterised – their movements, their utterances and sounds – made them a humorous and cute addition. Watching these puppets was like watching a different performance, however… and that is a bad thing for a number of reasons, one of which being that they had no real place there. Stylistically and materially, they are very incongruous with the performance, though I do commend the theatre company’s creativity in overcoming the issue of child representation on stage.

Nearly every single thing in this performance felt undercooked and unconsidered, most bluntly exemplified by the unyielding use of repetition – most notably the fight scenes and coronations. It felt as though the fundamental principles, the very basics of theatremaking were overlooked, e.g.: do not come out of character in the aisles – wait until you are off stage and out of sight; do not visibly wait in the aisles for your cue; know to whom you should address your lines; etc.

I am sorry to be blatant and crude, but this performance really was like watching a group of amateurs play dress-up. There was very little artistic value in this performance, and it is difficult for me to find something constructive and more elaborate to say than what I have in this review. Very disappointing.

“An utterly somnolent piece of theatre; unseasoned, underdone and meriting little attention.”

1 Star

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