Druid Shakespeare: Richard III

photo by Richard Termine

Richard III has never been my favorite Shakespeare, but the current production in Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, produced by Druid, a theater from Ireland, has shown me how great this unwieldy play can be. Druid Shakespeare: Richard III is brilliant, bordering on expressionism, directed meticulously by Druid’s Artistic Director, Garry Hynes. 

Queen Margaret skulks across stage before Richard enters, looking like a ghost in diaphanous gauze, in the play’s most surreal moment. Only then Richard enters from the floor with the famous soliloquy. This isn’t the text-based delivery of the 19th-century nor the rushed gone-before-you-know-it delivery that’s currently the rage in some circles. It’s metered, controlled verse supported by character and emotion. This Richard is bragging, not threatening, daring or confiding, and we become complicit in his crimes.

And that complicity remains throughout the play. Richard is a wise guy, his lines, with some exceptions, mocking the listener, dripping with ironic insincerity. No one would fall for his lies. But the Richard we hear is not the Richard the characters hear. We’re in on his plot from the beginning and throughout we experience the play through him.

Aaron Monaghan’s performance as the limping Richard is fascinating - an idiosyncratic interpretation - usually on one or two canes. His voice squeaks - indeed, some whole lines are delivered in falsetto - but he bellows in the final act, when he’s panicking.

Francis O’Connor and Doreen McKenna’s costumes almost exclusively dark.  Mr. O’Connor’s set has steely walls imprisoning the characters with one another. The stage is nearly bare, with a simple chair, and a wine cask, inevitable and premonitory. There’s light smoke throughout, and a skull suspended from the ceiling in a box. As one of Sartre’s characters, imprisoned with les autres, says, “We’re in hell, my pets.” My only objection is the use of anomalous florescent tubes to represent the tents on the battlefield.

Ms. Hynes has made cuts - naturally, mercifully and selectively. Lady Anne enters alone, dragging the corpse of the late king on her train, and delivers her speech “Set down, set down your honourable load” to no one. Only the ghosts of the two murdered princes appear in the Act V dream. And Clarence’s murderers never speak to him after their banter with one another. The play runs only three hours, with a 20 minute intermission.

Much is made of Catesby, played by the slight Marty Rea. He’s wearing a bowler and eyeglasses, the only character in contemporary drag. He murders Richard’s victims with a sort of staple gun because he’s ordered to. He’s a bureaucrat - the banality of evil.

There used to be a critical tradition of referring to Queen Elizabeth, Lady Anne and Queen Margaret as “the wailing women of Richard III.” In that marvelous scene with the three of them they lie on the floor, collapsed with grief. Marie Mullen is particularly striking as Queen Margaret, probably Shakespeare’s most vituperative senior citizen - “Out, devil! … A murderous villain, and so still thou art,” she brays.

After killing Richard and winning the Battle of Bosworth Field, Richmond limps off leaning on two swords, a second incarnation of Richard - great!

Ms. Hynes production of the play formerly known as The Tragedy of King Richard III is clear, specific, impeccable. Congratulations to her and Druid!

Steve Capra
November 2019

Druid Shakespeare: Richard III
produced by Druid (Ireland)
for The Lincoln Center White Light Festival
Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College
524 West 59th Street, New York
directed by Garry Hynes
with: Aaron Monaghan as Richard
Marie Mullen as Queen Margaret
Marty Rea as Catesby
lights: James F. Ingalls
sound: Gregory Clarke
set: Francis O’Connor
costume: Francis O’Connor and Doreen McKenna
opens November 7, 2019
closes November 23, 2019
three hours with 20 min intermission
reviewed November 9, 2019

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