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  • Chris ORourke

Dublin Theatre Festival 2018: Richard III

Siobhán Cullen and Aaron Monaghan in DruidShakespeare's Richard III. Image by Robbie Jack


House of Cards

Emerging from an open grave, like a large, misshapen spider, Aaron Monaghan’s Richard III twists and scurries his way across the stage on thin black canes as he weaves his tangled web of practiced deception. With surprising ease he lures you in. Perhaps it’s the unvarnished honesty, delivered with consummate if sinister charm, claiming openly to be an unapologetic villain with an eye on the throne and a woman who hates him. Or maybe it’s the bad boy boasting of one day taking the throne despite impossible odds, which he eventually does, then ruthlessly discarding anyone who’s served their purpose once he becomes king. In an alluring portrayal of a self-serving deceiver ready to use lies, spin, fake news, and murder to further his own ambition, DruidShakspeare’s darkly comic “Richard III” doesn’t just come close to the contemporary bones of the global political landscape, it gets right down deep into the marrow.

Avoiding simplistic, or overtly obvious contemporariness, “Richard III” proves all the more relevant and resonant for doing so. Resembling a sixteenth century House of Cards, “Richard III” is a darkly comic, razor edged tale of political subterfuge as one man’s unbridled ambition sees him say, and do, whatever’s necessary to achieve the highest office in the land. It's a world of lies and spin, of arrangements and appearance, of being ready to ruthlessly do whatever is required. In comic and often chilling asides, the real truth is often laid bare with irresistible charm. As absolute power corrupts absolutely, paranoia might mean the end of the road for Richard, but the distorting effects of power are far from over.

Aaron Monaghan, Garrett Lombard, John Olohan, Jane Brennan in Richard III. Photo Credit, Robbie Jack.

A contrast of classical, primarily in costume (with Doreen McKenna as co-costume design), set against a contemporary looking set underscores Francis O’Connor’s excellent design. An earth strewn floor, resembling an industrial unit, hints of an abattoir replete with bolt gun. O’Connor’s towering walls become doors, become panels, become passageways, his floor an open grave, all beautifully lit by James F. Ingalls. Indeed warm lighting, the textural earth, and the set’s grey blue industrial steel create a striking background against which director Garry Hynes composes stunning visual scenes, especially the final image, with some resembling talking tableau. If these art gallery styled, standing still images look impressive, over the three hours they can sometimes slow things down, adding lulls of heaviness as well as looking performatively conventional on occasion. Conor Linehan’s music, and Gregory Clarke’s sound design, add further depth and texture without ever being overbearing.

Even with reduced characters and a tightened text “Richard III” still sees most of the cast doubling-up with secondary roles. Jane Brennan’s Queen Elizabeth, Marie Mullen’s Queen Margaret, Ingrid Craigie’s Duchess of York, and Siobhán Cullen’s Lady Anne each deliver strong performances as women pushing hard against the unstoppable force that is Richard. John Olohan's King Edward and Bishop of Ely, and Seán McGinley’s Archbishop of York both deliver strong in supporting roles. Marty Rea’s masterful Gatesby, a no nonsense killer in a bowler hat with a Northern Irish accent (read what you will), is played to perfection. As is Rory Nolan’s duped and duplicitous Buckingham, with Nolan and Monaghan showing exquisite comic timing. Yet it is Monaghan’s thunderous, thoughtful, and delightfully twisted Richard that steals the show, lighting up the stage with a painstakingly detailed performance. Frank Blake, Peter Daly, Zara Devlin, and Garrett Lombard round out a remarkably impressive ensemble.

Sean McGinley, Garrett Lombard, Zara Devlin, Siobhán Cullen, Aaron Monaghan, Rory Nolan, Marie Mullen, Marty Rea in Richard III. Photo Credit, Robbie Jack.

Timely and perceptive, “Richard III” is Shakespeare for today, offering a visually gorgeous production, with a powerhouse performance, that speaks directly to the zeitgeist. A masterclass in excellence, Monaghan’s Machiavellian Richard is pure temptation. You might try hard not to be seduced, but you won’t be able to resist. Prepare to be wooed and won, not matter what the humour.

William Shakespeare’s “Richard III” presented by Druid Theatre, runs as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2018 at the Abbey Theatre until October 14, then continues until October 27

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