Richard III

John Cronin as Richard III, original artwork by James Tuomey:

John Cronin as Richard III, original artwork by James Tuomey:

It is the evening before the government’s draconian budget is about to be revealed and it is snowing heavily outside. The opening lines of Shakespeare’s Richard III have never seemed so resonant: “Now is the winter of our discontent” indeed. However, Fast + Loose Theatre Company’s production at the Chapel Royal does not set out to make Shakespeare’s thrilling tragedy of a king corrupted from the inside out prescient; in fact, it is unclear whether the production has anything much to say at all.

In the opening moment of this flaccid production the cast gather in the entrance portal, an explosion of energy in the eerie hushed atmosphere of Dublin Castle’s Chapel Royal. A soundtrack of dark cabaret à la Kurt Weill suggests a carnivalesque tone, but as the first scene progresses we are drawn back into a classical rendition of the text by the large ensemble. This is a long, complex play performed in difficult conditions and the cast fully commit themselves both in energy and in their physical performances – but the level of training and skill among the actors is mixed, and in the echoing marble chamber of the Royal Chapel, diction becomes an enormous problem for many of the actors. The sense of clarity is not helped by the breakneck speed at which the action progresses – 5 acts in 2 hours anyone?

Directors Valerie O’Connor and Eamon Hearns approach the theatrical potential of the Chapel Royal with trepidation, placing the audience in a single row of seats on either side of the aisle and in tiered seating on the altar. Much of the action plays out like a tennis match, with performers moving from one end of the church to the next, and occasionally delivering lines (invisibly) from the pews. The Brechtian promise of the opening moment is picked up like a loose thread after the interval, with strained snatches of Tom Waits audible at certain – but not significant – moments in the action, while in the final scene as the actors file out bearing the coffin of the executed Richard, The Persuasions' resonant version of 'Oh Heavenly Salvation' is played in full. This occasional use of music is the only gesture towards an aesthetic or grounding frame for the production.

There is no costume designer credited in the programme, and in fact many of the performers look like they are wearing their own clothes, while others seem more formally costumed. The look veers from modern “vintage” to contemporary. Using the cabaret music as a reference, and extrapolating upon specific details like Richard’s (John Cronin) trilby hat and waistcoat, you might roughly situate the action in the 1930s, but I am not sure that matters. On opening night, the lights set up on the chapel’s balcony weren't functioning, and the chapel’s own lighting – a series of pearlish celling lights – unfortunately did little to give a sense of time passing or changing locations, ultimately hampering the sense of the epic scale of the civil struggle at the heart of Shakespeare’s play.

On the back of the programme, Fast + Loose set out their mission as “producing Shakespeare in unusual or non-theatrical settings.” They are a young company and their achievement in getting this production to such a prestigious location, with the collaboration of the Office of Public Works, is considerable. But more attention needs to be paid to the play itself – why it might merit a production at all, what it is has to say – for the venture to be really worthwhile.

Sara Keating is a critic and journalist.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Richard III by William Shakespeare

6 - 11 December, 2010

Produced by Fast + Loose Theatre Company
In the Chapel Royal, Dublin Castle

Directed by Valerie O’Connor and Eamonn Hearns

Lighting Design: Sarah Jane Sheils

Original Artwork by James Tuomey

Movement Direction: Bryan Burroughs

Voice Coach: Cathal Quinn

With: Simon Ashe-Browne, Eva Bartley, Brian Bennett, John Cronin, Moe Dunford, Jack Hickey, Gerard Kelly, Ian Lloyd Anderson, Margaret MacAulliffe, Conor Madden, Denise McCormack, Gus McDonagh, Camille Ross and David Ryan.

Produced in association with the OPW with production support from the Rough Magic HUB.