“There were some wonderful performances. Andoh’s performance was a tour de force and commanded the stage” Anni Domingo
Adjoa Andoh directs and stars as Duke of Gloucester in this latest version of Richard 111, set in a maypole dancing Cotswold village. There have been many famous versions of Richard 111, one of Shakespeare’s greatest roles. Various brilliant actors come to mind when we think of Richard 111. Actors such as Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, Ralph Fiennes, Mark Rylance, Anthony Sher, to name but a few, had their own interesting interpretations of Richard’s state of mind and disability.
In the programme notes Andoh says that as a black child growing up in the Cotswolds, she felt isolated and obviously different, living among a mainly white community. She has brought that feeling of being othered to the figure of Richard, Shakespeare’s anti-hero. Richard sees himself as ‘rudely stamp’d’, deformed, unfinish’d, and deals with his otherness by being ‘determined to prove a villain’.
Women have played Richard 111 before, Sophie Russell starred as Richard in a 2019 candlelit staging at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in London. Andoh’s Richard is not the first production to have a black woman play Richard. Danai Gurira did just that in New York, July 2022. In that production however, Gurira was not the only black actor in that production, so her colour did not become the thing that set her Richard apart. Andoh’s version, set in the West country with her as the only black character, (the rest of the cast are all white) highlights the idea of othering. The play is presented as an examination of race and trauma. It feels more personal, focusing on her childhood trauma and looks at the psychology rather than the physical aspect of the character.
Andoh’s androgenous Richard was fascinating to watch. At times he was loud and dramatic, arms spread wide, boastful, dangerous. He shrieked and pranced and overacted up his villainy almost Hamlet like, pretending a kind of madness. When alone, however he was at once desperate, and boastful, while confessing frankly, in his many soliloquies, about the murders he was planning. His inconsistency meant that both the cast and the audience were thrown trying to understand this capricious king.
Some of Richard famous lines were replaced by song. The play opened with the singing of the famous speech, ‘now is the winter of our discontent,’ dancing around the maypole, and the rural accents for most of the characters s immediately set place and tone the play. Amelia Jane Hankins’s set was simple and atmospheric, with a tall tree centre stage, which was sometimes bathed by Chris Davey’s atmospheric lighting. Yeofi Andoh’s folk score plus the costume, cream coloured, rough and simple tunics worn by all the characters, Kings, Dukes, Queens, or servants, made one think, however, that we were in a Shakespearean comedy in the forest of Arden rather than a tense tragedy play.
Andoh’s Richard, although ruthless in his political ambition, was also full of energy and passion, bringing an edgy comedy to the part. The comedy, however, did mean that some of his villainy did not seem vicious enough as he delivered comic asides. The killings masked behind a screen in giant eerie shadows and the choreography of the battle scene (with use of sticks as weapons) by Jack Murphy were very effective. The decision to present the young Duke of York (one of the two princes in the tower) as a puppet, however, did not quite fit with the rest of the production.
There were some wonderful performances. Andoh’s performance was a tour de force and commanded the stage. Elizabeth Woodville (Rachel Sanders) was splendid. Liz Kettle (as Queen Margaret) Phoebe Shepherd (Lady Anne) Caroline Parker (Elizabeth, Duchess of York), Rachel Sanders, and (Elizabeth Woodville) all gave strong performances. Joseph Kloska (as Buckingham) was great at scheming and supporting his murderous cousin.
Andoh says that she wants the play to be open to a wide audience. The idea that it is Richard’s colour that sets him apart gives us a chance to look again at one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays with a different gaze and it is a better fit than one might expect. It is a show that is well worth a visit. Richard 111 runs until 13th May BOOK HERE
Written by Anni Domingo who is a British actress, director, author and writer, working in theatre, television, radio and films. Follow on Instagram