REVIEW: Richard III at the Tower

This article was originally written for the Londonist

Our expectations were high, purely because the location seemed so perfectly fitting.  Love and Madness’s modern dress version of Shakespeare’s history play didn’t disappoint, but the venue was actually incidental in a way.  It was wonderful to have our viewing framed by an after-hours wander through the Tower of London, but we would have been just as impressed with Richard III if it had been in a fusty school hall, in a place off the tube map and hard to get to.

A suited and booted young cast convinced as a group of back-stabbing royals, needing no props other than a few chairs to turn a long banqueting room into a shady corridor of power.  Uncomfortable spot lights and a minimalist soundtrack heightened the tension at key moments. All the performances were top notch, but Iarla McGowan stood out as an utterly brilliant and gloriously nasty Richard – two-faced and conniving, instilling hate and fear in all he encountered.

Performed in the round, in a room that was designed for feasting not play-watching, the space was fairly hard work for the audience.  It was impossible for the actors not to have their backs to you at points throughout the performance, which made a few lines hard to catch.  A series of thick wooden columns through the middle of the stage area meant sight lines were often obscured.  However, these things came to add to the atmosphere of mistrust in the end, and strangely enhanced the viewing experience.

We’d never been inside the Tower of London’s walls before, and it’s always exciting to experience one of London’s iconic attractions when it’s closed and quiet.  We glimpsed a flash of one of the yeoman guard’s uniforms behind a half closed door during the play, and saw one march across the grounds during the interval for the ‘ceremony of the keys’.  It certainly made the evening more of an event, but what stood out most was the confident and compelling performance.

Richard III has now finished, but there’s more information about upcoming Love and Madness productions on their website.

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