Ben Cook reviews Ricky III, Venue 1, St Andrews, 6 December 2011
The wait in St. Andrews has ended. Ricky III, the high-school cheerleading adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III, has premiered. Few could have missed the deluge of publicity afforded the production. Arguably, it is the most elaborate play to be put on this semester and with a large cast, choreographed scenes and a classic story of murder most foul, it has a great deal of potential. Sadly, it is let down by a shaky premise and indecisive direction.
Nevertheless, it has its redeeming qualities; Maia Krall Fry as Ricky, on who the play’s success would normally rest on, does an admirable job. Being taller (not to mention female) than the traditional representation of Richard III lends her stooping and arrogant proclamations a distinctness that suitably dominates the stage. Her stage presence, though, could be the result of a script that has been considerably shortened. As Shakespeare’s second longest play it is rarely produced in its entirety, but to shorten a four hour play into an hour and a half suggests a lack of vision: the cost of which is a supporting cast that seem more like stage decoration than cogent characters in their own right. Perhaps this was director Charlotte Branfield’s intention, for it is the boars who silently prowl the borders of the stage and seating arrangements that grab one’s attention. Their masks are surprisingly effective and the placards they loft against Prince Eddy (Chloe Pearce) are biting as well as humorous. Furthermore, it is the fight scene where all the actors go through a meticulously orchestrated bevy of punches, kicks, and flips that stand out above, say, the dialogue that preceded it. Venue 1, though offering a great range of lighting options and space, has poor acoustics, and many of the actors and actresses could have projected their voices farther.
Ultimately a reinterpretation of a classic such as Richard III rests on the innovative changes that make it fresh and challenging. The gender reversal is an intriguing idea, but it came across as incomplete; for instance, though pronouns are changed in the revised script, (‘him’ becomes ‘her’, etc.) gender-bound titles such as ‘Lord’ and ‘King’ remain. It can be assumed that this was a conscious decision by the director, but it adds a touch of absurdity to procedures where a cheerleader is hoisted up into the air and crowned King. The setting of the play in an American High School, conveying how much squabbling and treachery takes place in cheerleading, might very well be accurate; but it would equally be valid in any other hierarchal order, and the choice of cheerleading, popularised in countless mediocre TV shows, seems uninspired as a result. Despite moments of eloquence and professionalism it would have been better if this high school drama had stayed there.
Image credit – illustration by Miranda Burnett-Stewart and poster design by Adelaide Waldrop