Now is the winter of our discontent, so what could be better than a play about Richard III, one of our most notorious monarchs. But what do we actually know about him? As he didn’t dabble in social media very often, not that much. We’re led to believe he was a hunchback. He’s generally considered to be responsible for imprisoning and murdering his nephews and the rightful heirs to the throne, #theprincesinthetower. He wasn’t a great business man, as he’d happily barter his kingdom for a horse. He was killed – repeatedly, if the wounds on his body are anything to go by – at the Battle of Bosworth Field. His skeleton was found in recent years under a car park in Leicester. Oh, and he’s Cockney rhyming slang.
Tonight’s show aims to set the record straight and clear poor Richard’s besmirched name. The play presents him as basically a kindly soul who never wanted to be king, but was manipulated and cursed. At one point, he sees his own future, buried beneath that car park in Leicester, but he doesn’t even know what a car or a park is. Richard is played by James Beglin, who is on the stage virtually the whole time. He presents him as a neglected child in the shadow of his brother, Edward, who is bold and handsome, and very clearly his mother’s favourite, whilst Richard is a bit scrawny, a bit whiney, rejected and lonely. (His best – and indeed only – friend is a dead crow called Treacle.) He’s just not kingly. James plays Richard as a figure of pathos, a less hideous version of Blackadder, but sometimes channelling Rik Mayall. He’s incredibly watchable – and occasionally maniacal.
This is a three-handed play, and providing the other 120 degrees in this talented equilateral triangle, are Jessica McDonagh and Kris W. Laundrum, who each tackle multiple diverse roles with consummate ease. Jessica (the play’s writer, nay scribe) was in danger of stealing the show in her role as the wild haired witch. It is a mesmerizing performance; the way she looked, spoke and moved were priceless. Meanwhile, Kris – no stranger to blond wigs – plays, amongst others, King Edward, who has a deep, booming, theatrical projecting voice. In the future he will probably be Brian Blessed. Kris is by no means a one-note actor and is equally comfortable in any role, such as Fergal, the king’s camp Irish aide. Hilarious.
The set is lavish and cleverly utilised: a stone wall with hanging pennants, giving a very mediaeval feel, which makes you just want to get up and joust or perform a madrigal.
The play runs in a single act for around 75 minutes. It’s ludicrous, irreverent, sometimes insane. It claims to have leanings towards Monty Python, with a dash of Blackadder and a sprinkle of Spike Milligan. It’s not Shakespeare. It’s not highbrow. But it’s also not lowbrow: there are jokes and references of historical accuracy for the historians amongst the audience. It is never less than thoroughly entertaining. I don’t recall the last time I was this entertained for 75 minutes. It’s fast, it’s funny: laugh out loud funny for the most part. The cast are engaging, accomplished, charismatic and able to improvise. They look like they’re having a great time.
Well, my review endeth here, as ‘tis better, sir, to be brief than tedious. In short: so riotously hysterical you may think an ague has overcome thee.
Reviewer: Gray Freeman
Revieweth: 24th October 2019
North West End UK Olde Star Rating: ★★★★★