Carla van der Sluijs
Ralph Fiennes in ‘Richard III’ has been one of the most hotly anticipated productions in London. Fiennes is known for gracing the Hollywood screens with cruel and calculating characters and it was exciting to see him turn his talents to the West End stage. Though the play went a step too far in its efforts to distinguish itself, it was a definite success with plenty of atmosphere and chilling moments to grip me firmly in the ‘winter of our discontent’.
Aside from Cate Blanchett in the audience the night I was there, this production was famed for its star-studded appearances. However, their performances were mixed in quality. Fiennes’ interpretation of the cruel king may have been disappointingly unsurprising to some. Like most of his film characters he was cold and unsmiling for most of his time on stage. And yet, this created a frightening king who absolutely ruled the space with a firm hand, just as he was ruling the country at the time. As an audience, we always felt one step behind his murderous intentions. Fiennes’ walked with a realistic and consistent limp. His twisted back reflected Richard’s difficult posture and hinted at the physical pain that may have provoked the psychological danger of the character. I wanted to enjoy Vanessa Redgrave’s performance as she is so well-known and talented, and yet I ended up zoning out for most of her speeches. She spoke quietly and slowly which halved the energy of intense scenes and unfortunately did not draw the audience into her long wordy monologues.
When staging Shakespeare there is always pressure to create something new with a script that has been performed over and over since the 1500s. This was evidently on the director’s mind, and the desperate push to be outside the box caused some decisions that strayed too far from the character’s designs. One detail that I loved was the archaeological excavation taking place on stage as the audience entered. Men in dust suits, reporters and onlookers filled the stage until the house lights went down on the discovery of Richard’s skull. This was accompanied with voiceovers from a news broadcast before they faded out into Fiennes’ firm and heart-stopping delivery of that famous opening line. I loved this intriguing opening that established a firm connection between the past and the present. However, there were other movements away from the script which caused problems. Although I am completely in favour of new interpretations of ‘Richard III’, the director lost the point of the character by including a shocking rape scene between King Richard and Queen Margaret. What Richard lacks in his twisted physicality is accounted for in the strengths of his twisted mind. His terrifying force is entirely psychological and the rape scene was disappointingly out of touch with the character.
In spite of flaws in directorial decisions, I really enjoyed the performance and I was left reeling from the king’s merciless pursuit of power. Fiennes’ dramatic strength is in chilling acting which completely worked with a character like ‘Richard III.’ In this role he was, quite simply, a natural.
Carla van der Sluijs