The Almeida’s Richard III, starring Ralph Fiennes, was one of this year’s hot tickets, worth braving the theatre’s less-than-brilliant website to be sure of grabbing a ticket. Was it worth it? Well, yes, I thought. Fiennes gives a strong performance as a mad, manic king, commanding the stage and sending shivers down the spine of any audience member lucky – or unlucky – enough to catch his eye. His Richard is someone who revels in his evil, taking revenge for the way in which he has been treated thanks to his hunched back (Fiennes’ back must be agony, surely, by the end of the performance, judging by the way he holds it crooked all evening). As his murderous tally grows larger, skulls light up one by one at the back of the auditorium (the Almeida’s brick wall), eventually forming the constellation of the Boar (which was Richard’s emblem).
Rupert Goold’s production begins with the recent excavation of Richard’s body in a Leicester car park, before the archaeologists and their spotlights back away to reveal the living king, a strong conceit spoiled by the fact that the cast wear modern suits and mobile phones. Not that this is a problem in itself, but the modern costume and the play’s beginning seemed to belong in two different productions. Still, it’s particularly amusing to watch Lord Hastings (Globe regular James Garnon) grow increasingly panicked at the content of the texts he receives on his smartphone.
Among the rest of the strong supporting cast, Joanna Vanderham does a good job as Richard’s unlucky queen Anne, and Vanessa Redgrave impresses as the older Queen Margaret in a quiet but impressionable portrayal of someone who has lost everything.
A memorable production, this is another example of what the Almeida does well: reinvigorated classics that always offer something new.