Left – Rose Riley and Kate Mulvany. Cover – (l-r) Ivan Donato, Kate Mulvany, Meredith Penman, Gareth Reeves. Photos – Prudence Upton
One of Shakespeare's History plays, and the fourth longest in the entire canon, Richard III is a tricky piece and has the potential to just become a mass of talking heads coupled with bloody chaos. If you don't have someone capable in that central role leading the charge the whole thing groans and splinters, and comes apart. It's happened on many a past production, but Bell Shakespeare have managed to cast Kate Mulvany in a role she was seemingly born to play. Which is ironic, for obvious reasons. Raw, grotesque and real, her performance is nothing short of remarkable.
With this production set in the early 1900s, Richard 3 deals with the violent ascension of its namesake to the throne. Limping his way past the (ever so conveniently) lifeless bodies of his brothers, a nephew, and other souls who aren't playing to win – it's a high stakes chess game of the most engrossing kind. He's a cold blooded psychopath. The hard done by, "nobody loves me" man who thinks the world owes him everything and everyone is dispensable. And you hate yourself at the end when Mulvany makes you actually care for this thing. So good is she at cajoling and massaging your affections for him across the evening, you actually root for him on the buzzer. Ever the master manipulator, even on his deathbed. Nature vs nurture? He's a calculating murderer so he should die, but then he did suffer throughout his life... this production starts a discussion. Doesn't all great art?
With an incredibly strong ensemble on stage for the majority, Richard 3 is an opulent ride. The cast pulsate and react as a whole to the ongoing action and it's a very tight production. Meredith Penman as Queen Elizabeth gives us one of the most pin drop performances of the evening as Richard negotiates the marriage to his niece, right after having thoughtfully disposed of his nephew. Mulvany's clarity with the text and her intentions are so gripping to watch, if there was one quibble it would be that this was not matched by some others in the ensemble, which made it at times an uneven ride. But not a less enjoyable one by any means.
Director Peter Evans has given audiences a truly dynamic production with this production of Richard 3. A tight script care of Mulvany's dramaturgy has the action cantering along and Anna Cordingley's design is luscious and seductive. It surrounds the action like an expensive fur wrapped around a delicate, porcelain white neck. Murderous ambition is couched in a world of glamorous gowns, scotch neat, and buffs aplenty.
With only a two week season here in Melbourne, this latest incarnation of Richard III by Bell Shakespeare offers up a superb night at the theatre. You'd be mad to miss the opportunity to watch Mulvany in action, and sample some satisfying Shakespeare.
Bell Shakespeare presents
by William Shakespeare
Director Peter Evans
Venue: Fairfax Studio - Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 20 April – 7 May, 2017