Seen: 13 September, Trafalgar Studios. Trafalgar Transformed: Season 2
Cast: Alasdair Buchan, Simon Coombs, Philip Cumbus, Martin Freeman, Madeleine Harland, Julie Jupp, Gerald Kyd, Joshua Lacey, Paul Leonard, Gabrielle Lloyd, Forbes Masson, Paul McEwan, Gina McKee, Mark Meadows, Vinta Morgan, Lauren O’Neil, Maggie Steed, Jo Stone-Fewings, Louis Davison, Stuart Campbell, Ross Marron, Tommy Rodger, Will Keeler, Tom Sargent
Directed by Jamie Lloyd
Jamie Lloyd’s ‘Trafalgar Transformed’ Richard III starts with a bang. Actually, long before that, Margaret is already taking her place on a bench underneath a picture of the current monarch, but I am not sure how many patrons thought her to be a fellow member of the audience, so things really get started with said bang that also shuts everyone up nicely.
The production is set in 1979, a winter of discontent in England with the colours used on stage painfully reminding me of my late grandmother’s idea of interiour design.
I actually feel a bit sorry for Richard III for Shakespeare taking so much artistic license writing this play that he is probably always going to be a hunchbacked mass murderer in people’s minds. On the other hand, if he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have gotten such gleefully evil performances as Martin Freeman’s.
There can be so much humour found in Shakespeare’s tragedies when the right people are involved and this version was as funny as it was bloody and tragic. Based on reports and twitter pictures of people looking as if they just attended a Walking Dead convention, I expected a lot more blood. The first rows even got equipped with shirts to protect their clothing. The blood spray was not for cheap shock value; considering how it happened when it did, it was actually realistic.
Margaret, who was often in neutral at the side of the stage when she wasn’t directly involved in the proceedings, was rather interestingly used in the big final battle. I probably missed a few deaths keeping an eye on her. The inclusion of technology – especially after said battle – was cleverly done and apparently no fish were harmed in the making of this production.
They managed to assemble a cast that worked very well together, both in the serious and the hilarious parts. Martin Freeman really pulled off Richard, adressing the audience to include them in his scheming once in a while.
There were rumours going around that young people who usually didn’t go to the theatre went to see Martin Freeman in the title role and were behaving badly, clapping at inappropriate times or taking photos. We didn’t see anything even remotely like that. Everyone behaved respectfully and watched with rapt attention.
However, I just read a report that 55% of patrons of this play were first time West End theatregoers. Way to go, Trafalgar Studios! I can’t imagine anyone having seen this to ever call Shakespeare boring again or thinking that theatre is for old people or whatever the current prejudices are. If it takes Dr. Watson-Baggins to show them, why the hell not? It wasn’t stunt casting after all – that just doesn’t work with this role.
No matter what reasons brought people to the Trafalgar, I doubt many left with complaints. This production was definitely something different – in a very good way.