The Southsea Shakespeare Actors’ choice of the Square Tower for Richard III works a treat.
Played against the stone-patchwork of the southern wall it drips with history – appropriate for Shakespeare’s literary assassination of the last Plantagenet king.
Yes, it’s Tudor propaganda of the worst sort – but viewed with a 21st century ethos it plays wonderfully as a black comedy.
And director Rob Bartlett has cast Aaron Holdaway, well-known locally for his comedy roles, as the ill-fated king.
If you know Holdaway’s work and expect a prat-falling, eye-rolling Richard – forget it. Humour is gently prised out, not forced, and Holdaway demonstrates a range that goes well-beyond making an audience laugh. As Richard’s sidekick, Buckingham, Danny Carter is clear and believable.
There’s great work from Sue Bartlett (Duchess of York), Lauren Farnhill (Margaret) and Sarah Parnell (Elizabeth), too.
Bartlett’s direction makes good, creative use of the space, the sound is sometimes terrifyingly effective and the pace is very good.
Some of the smaller character-parts are painted with strokes a little too broad for my liking and I’m not convinced the zombie-esque vocal from the spirits of Richard’s dead victims works.
That said it’s great to see one of Portsmouth’s oldest and finest companies still producing Shakespeare of this quality.