The throne that Richard craves is a wheelchair. The carpet of the royal court he wants so much to win is torn up newspaper. The robes of kingship are the medical clothes of the 19th century lunatic. From the start Richard the Third’s ambition is clearly misplaced.
The Lord Stanley Theatre in North London could well be London’s smallest fringe theatre. Until November 2nd it is home to a thoughtful staging of Richard III from Little Goblin Productions, directed by Victor Sobchak and set in a Victorian mental asylum. This allies the audience with those of our ancestors who used to watch a cock fight in the morning, bait a bear until tea and then go and stare at the antics of the residents in the local lunatic asylum.
The first words spoken on the small stage are What are you doing bitch? which aren’t directly from the first folio. Bawled into the face of an inmate by a bullying nurse it sets the nasty tone of what’s to come. One inmate has a copy of Richard III. In his madness he believes himself to be the king.
The lunatics gradually rise to their feet and become Shakespeare’s characters. The boundary between the asylum and the play is blurred. The nurses return as Clarence’s assassins, still wearing their nurse’s uniforms. Ripped newspaper is everywhere, on the floor, stuck to the actors’ bare feet, pinned to the walls. It is bedding for the inmates, weapons for the assassins, crowns for the kings. It levels the characters, dissolving pretension though if you have no inkling of the story then it will be hard to follow as everyone wears white medical robes, whoever they are playing.
Christopher Diacopoulos is a hobbling, smirking Richard, limping across the stage to scratch his back on the wall like a cat. His violence is mundane, matter-of-fact, a machiavellian character flaw. His powerful position is gently conveyed by a stage door that several characters try to use but find locked. Richard alone has the key.
Amongst the rest of the cast Irina Miroff stands out as Buckingham, believing too long that Richard will honour his word, whilst Penelope Day’s Elizabeth stands up to the king with real passion.
Typos are very easy to mke, but the play’s programme is strewn with them. That gave some apprehension when waiting for the adaptation to begin, but on stage there is no hint of garbled language. The play ends as it began in the asylum. Good, bad or indifferent – to some extent we’re all mad.