Richard III: Wars of The Roses
By William Shakespeare
Adapted by John Barton with Peter Hall (1963)
Directed by Trevor Nunn (2015)
The Rose Theatre, Kingston-on-Thames
Thursday 15th October 2015, 19.30
SEE LINKS BELOW FOR EACH PLAY
SEE ALSO “The Wars of The Roses – Overview” (LINKED)
SHORT VERSION OF CAST LIST (nearly everyone doubles, there is a very large ensemble)
Robert Sheehan as Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III
Kare Conradi as Edward IV
Alexandra Gilbreath as Queen Elizabeth
Michael Xavier as George, Duke of Clarence
Susan Tracey as Duchess of York
Alexander Hanson as Duke of Buckingham
Geoff Leesley as Duke of Exeter
James Simmons as Duke of Norfolk
Rufus Hound as Lord Rivers, brother of Queen Elizabeth
Oliver Cotton as Lord Hastings
Timothy Walker as Catesby
Alex Waldmann as Tyrell / 3rd citizen
Imogen Daines as Lady Anne, daughter of Warwick, widow of Prince Edward + First citizen
Laurence Spellman as Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond
Joely Richardson as Queen Margaret
Alex Waldmann as ghost of King Henry VI
Freddy Carter as ghost of Prince Edward
Harry Egan as Earl of Oxford
Andrew Woodall as Earl of Derby
Jim Creighton as Bishop of Ely
Geoff Leesley as Lieutenant of Tower of London / Lord Mayr
James Simmons as First murderer
Laurence Spellman as Second Murderer
Robert Sheehan as King Richard III
Richard III is intrinsically the best of the four plays adapted into the Wars of The Roses, and it’s also the most intact. Therein lies the problem. It was never written as the fourth part of Henry VI, and is a great freestanding play. Tacking it onto the Henry VI plays undermines it in several ways.
First is the character of Richard. In Edward IV in the Barton trllogy he wades in the blood of his enemies, and slays Prince Edward after the Battle of Tewkesbury, then murders Henry VI in the Tower of London. As with much Shakespeare, history may differ. All three “sons of York” were in the Tower the night Henry “died of melancholy” and it took a few years after 1485 to pin it on Richard. Whatever, in the drama, we know full well that Richard is a psychopathic murdering swine before Richard III even starts. So Richard has nowhere to go … he can’t build up the deceptions at all then gradually reveal his wickedness because we know it all from the outset.
Then there’s the chronology. Shakespeare runs Richard III from 1471 (the burial of Henry VI) to 1485, the Battle of Bosworth. When it’s a free standing play, it all gets compressed and flows and it never seems to be fourteen years long. Jerking onward from Edward IV it feels like we’ve flashbacked a little … the great first speech and the arrest of Clarence intervene between Henry VI’s death at the end of Edward IV and the arrival of his coffin in Richard III (Set down thy honourable load …). It doesn’t flow to me.
It’s stylistically different … we have to wait right until the end for fighting to take place again, so it contrasts with the first two. We’d got used to very short scenes and lots of moving action. It’s gone.
Then Barton cut the heart out of the three women’s parts, losing the essence of the play for me. I thought none of the three shone with what was left of their parts, nor did it focus on them.
I thought Buckingham and Hastings both lost their distinctiveness too. Barton also compressed the brother (Rivers) and son (Dorset) of Queen Elizabeth to just the one Lord Rivers (actually the same as when I did the role at age eighteen!)
And then we have the long, long, very long night before Bosworth. That’s all in the original text, but most directors move more quickly to the climax. It slows right at the wrong point. The long ghost scene / dream of Richard III is probably why people refer to it as a “pageant” in reviews.
I thought Barton’s adaptation on Henry VI and Edward IV worked a dream. I think he screwed up Richard III. It’s a play I’ve seen many times. I didn’t like what Barton did to it.
Robert Sheehan was the initial reason for booking it. I don’t accept any of the criticism of his part as Richard. I thought his RP voice excellent, and not at all an imitation of Olivier … the calipers in fact were Kevin Spacey (the best version I’ve seen by a mile). He got well-deserved ecstatic applause at the end.
L to R: Henry Tudor (Laurence Spellman) v Richard III (Robert Sheehan)
The final fight was excellent. Sheehan, fighting Henry Earl of Richmond one-handed, was brilliant, as was his opponent. Sword fights put the bums on the splintered seats at the Globe and Rose back in their day. This was really very good.
In the end, Robert Sheehan deserves a 5 star review, but the Barton-Hall Richard III is a three star at most. Intrinsically the best play in its original form, but clearly the runt of the trilogy. Factor in though that it was the last play of three in a long day for us.