Thankfully, Nottingham Playhouse in its 50th year knows how to lay claim and does so with a taught and wickedly funny production of Richard III, with a fine Arturo Ui a couple of years back - storming the audience's affections for the deformed hedgehog of Shakespeare's Plantagenet-maligning drama.
This is only my third Richard III on stage (the first being Sir Ian McKellan way back when, and the second Jonjo O'Neill in 2012), and this one makes for an interesting combination of the previous two I've seen.*
The staging is wonderfully done and all credit to the staff who have put together this production. Projection is especially well used, not least for the haunting ghost sequence near the end of King Richard's victims. But the staging also makes inspired use of the auditorium, including locating Act 3 scene 7 (the pre-interval part of the play) with elegant intrusion into the space. Our scheming Duke of Gloucester, Richard, is being promoted by his spin-doctor Buckingham, piously lit on the circle balcony reading a bible (upside-down at first) whilst around and amidst the audience, the 'crowd' clamours for Richard's kingship, encouraged by Buckingham's promotion. I love how the Playhouse often do this, making the most of the limited thrust of the stage by integrating actors comings, goings, contributions and performances into the wider space amongst the audience. By the end of said scene (Act 3 scene 7), the projection shows us soon-to-be-King Richard hooting with laughter at how he has successfully conned everyone to his cause.
Of course, the production has limitations, not least those imposed by costs - one feels for a cast that has to keep going on crutches, which Charles Daish does in the role of Clarence (a truly above and beyond call of duty performance induced by an on-stage accident early in the run, and demonstrating how lucky the RSC is at having understudies). But it is partly because of such limitations, that this is a clever and innovative production. Moreover, such inspired hard work and exploitation of stage resources highlights the incomprehensibility of Notts County Council (I long to remove a strategic 'o' from that name) proposing to cut 100% of their (limited but crucial) contribution to the Playhouse budget.
Bartholomew is a fine lead for the cast, who all do justice to this potentially over-familiar play (and certainly an over-familiar character and characterisation). He is schemingly funny and wry, and just laugh-out-loud hilarious in some of his manipulation. And in a play that has limited power for women, the female members of the cast make good their contributions: Lady Anne (Natalie Burt), Edward's Queen Elizabeth (Siobhan McCarthy) and the Duchess of York, mother to the "proud, subdued, bloody, treacherous" Richard (Act 4 scene 4), as she so acutely describes him. I was personally very impressed as well with Nyasha Hatendi, who - especially as Richmond - was superb. A real tingle accompanied those speeches in Act 5 scenes 3 and 5.
A little news item including a clip of Bartholomew as Richard III
The Bardathon - Dr. Peter Kirwan (whose reviews are always worthwhile, and indeed at one point I lost a whole day reading the archive)
Nottingham Evening Post Review
*Though unsurprisingly I have a keen fondness for the radio version done with Douglas Henshall as Richard, even though it wasn't to everyone's tastes: Radio Drama Review provides a nice overview of its charms.