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Richard III at Almeida theatre

Published 17 June 2016

What’s it all about?

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, is born with scoliosis and is brother to the king. A pathological dissembler, Richard is desperate to seize the crown, ruthlessly and heartlessly dispensing with everyone who stands in his way.

Who’s in it?

Ralph Fiennes, fresh from his stint at The Old Vic, gives a masterful performance as Richard. He embodies the villain’s physical deformity with grim authenticity: staggering around the stage, one gnarled hand permanently tucked under his arm, his back contorted with Richard’s famously curved spine. He switches from calculating politician to blushing dissembler in the blink of an eye, carefully stage managing the destruction of all those around him. He is brutal and vicious in every detail, right down to the clipped pronunciation of his consonants. What may come as a surprise is how funny Fiennes is, arriving on stage like the uncle nobody wants to see at a family party, lying and dealing out death with sarcasm and a smile, keeping the audience chortling throughout.

Vanessa Redgrave is both terrifying and pitiful as the grief-stricken Margaret, maintaining a hypnotic presence on the stage as she curses and soothes her companions in turn, clutching a mangled, filthy doll.

What should I look out for?

Adam Cork’s chilling sound effects: a constant soundtrack of hammering, howling winds, dragging chains, screeching and distorted chiming that serve to make the atmosphere colder, darker and ever more terrifying.

The delightful modern anachronisms that blend seamlessly with Shakespeare’s script, including the occasional well-placed use of a smartphone.

Scott Handy’s devastating portrayal of the honest Duke of Clarence, the first of Richard’s victims. His recounting of a nightmare in his prison cell arguably forms the two most captivating minutes of the whole play, the poetry delivered with exceptionally gracious ease.

Who was in the press night crowd?

There were stars of stage and screen aplenty; Official London Theatre spotted Martin Freeman (who famously played the vicious king in 2014), Richard Wilson, Jessica Brown-Findlay, Andrew Garfield and Olivier nominee Gemma Arterton.

What are people saying on Twitter?

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In a nutshell?

Expertly directed and beautifully performed, Rupert Goold’s production brings Shakespeare’s greatest villain to monstrous life.

Will I like it?

This is a dark story of a dark and twisted mind: death is at its core and much of it is performed over an open grave. Skulls are mounted on the wall as the body count rises, the violence is blunt and shocking, but you will not be able to tear your eyes away. Shakespeare’s lines are delivered with such ease all round that you could be forgiven for forgetting that they were penned over 400 years ago. Goold has assembled a stellar cast, and they are all so good that each new soliloquy seems to surpass its predecessor.

Gut-wrenching, horrifying and yet utterly sublime, this is Shakespeare at his finest and is bound to leave you breathless.

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