Saturday, April 8, 2017


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Peter Evans
Bell Shakespeare
Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse to 15 April

Reviewed by Len Power 7 April 2017

The key to Bell Shakespeare’s new production of ‘Richard the Third’ is in its renaming.  ‘Richard 3’ tells us that we are looking at the play from a modern perspective and having Richard played by a woman certainly indicates that the show will challenge expectations.  That it is so successful is a credit to everyone involved.

One of Shakespeare’s history plays, ‘Richard 3’ concerns itself with the rise to the English throne of Richard and his eventual downfall.  Richard is one of the great characters in Shakespeare and a feast for any actor to play.

Peter Evans’ production is set in a lavishly appointed room in an unspecified place and time.  In his program notes, Peter Evans explains that, ”I’m not interested in creating a contemporary equivalent to a historical event or finding some period or location that makes modern sense of where Shakespeare set the play. I think each of the plays exist on the stage and that they always have truth and reality in them, but not necessarily through representing real locations and real spaces.”

Evans’ approach means that we can focus clearly on the characters and their motivations without distractions.  The designer, Anna Cordingley, captures the director’s vision with a grand set and lavish costumes that can’t be pinned down to any particular place and time.

The acting of the ensemble cast is first rate.  Rose Riley gives a very strong performance of conflicted emotions as Lady Anne who marries Richard even though she knows that he murdered her husband.  James Evans is an excellent Buckingham and Sandy Gore as Queen Margaret and Sarah Woods as the Duchess of York also give fine performances.  Several of the company play multiple roles and if you’re not familiar with the play, this can be a bit confusing.  A read of the synopsis in the program beforehand would be a good idea.

From left: Ivan Donato, Kate Mulvaney, Meredith Penman
The success of this particular production ultimately depends on whether the playing of Richard by a woman works or not.  Kate Mulvaney gives a towering performance in the role and is totally believable as this character.  Although Richard shows he is capable of great evil, Mulvaney invests him with personal qualities that give us a better understanding of the man and his motivations.  Richard’s attitude towards women in the play comes as a shock in Mulvaney’s delivery and is all the more effective as a result.  Anyone thinking this is gimmick casting will be stunned at how well this works.

Cast photo by Prudence Upton

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Artcetera’ program (9am Saturdays) and ‘Dress Circle’ (3.30pm Mondays).