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Richard III, Tobacco Factory, Bristol | reviews, news & interviews

Richard III, Tobacco Factory, Bristol

Richard III, Tobacco Factory, Bristol

Stripped-down Bristol Shakespeare scores again

John Mackay as Richard Duke of GloucesterPhoto by Mark Douet

Performing Shakespeare in a former cigarette factory in South Bristol has become something of a ritual for Andrew Hilton and his close-knit company. Any act of ritual requires a dedicated space and the red-tiled floor on which the drama unfolds on this most intimate of stages has taken on a certain aura.

With the minimum of sets and props, a deep probing of the text and the minimum of modish theatrical artifice, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory proves year after year that less is more, at least when it comes to awakening the imagination.

Hilton uses the space as an alchemical vessel, a place of transformation. Richard’s opening soliloquy is spoken with the house lights on, but when it’s over, the place goes dark, and the audience, facing each other across the four sides of the space, brought to rapt attention as if by the magic of Gloucester’s words and holding the illusion of the play between them, near miraculously create the container within which the tragedy will unfold.

There is a whiff of Tarantino – the spine-chilling combination of black humour and extreme violence

John Mackay gives the twisted Duke of Gloucester’s ambition a psychopathic turn. Mackay is a tall man: at times, his gangling dysfunctionality – arms and legs flailing about as if only half under his conscious control – spills into the grand guignol that always threatens a role in which excess is essential. Richard embodies human nature distorted, forced by frustration and anger into a manic and obsessive will to power. There is a whiff of Tarantino in this play – the spine-chilling combination of black humour and extreme violence – and this is where the danger lies. John Mackay (pictured below right) mostly gets it right, not least, at the spell-binding moment when his conscience briefly awakens, on the eve of the final battle, and the ghosts of his victims come to haunt him.

John Mackay Richard III SATTFThe rest of the cast are all very good. There were times a few years back when some of the acting in Andrew Hilton’s productions was a bit shaky, but no longer. Paul Currier, as Buckingham, plays the ultimate chancer with an all-too-human mix of fiendishness and vulnerability. This is a schemer we can believe in, even identify with. The women are all good: they carry all the emotions that Richard’s psychopathic nature excludes. Lisa Kay as Queen Elizabeth navigates the difficult contrast between regal force and a mother’s grief with flawless brio. Nicky Goldie is equally assured and very moving as the monster Richard’s mother. There is a singularly powerful moment when Hilton has them both on the ground, facing in opposite directions, two mothers brought down by fury and grief, the Duchess cursing her murderous son and the Queen keening for her dead princes.

The production catches well the bare-faced ambition, treachery and spin which characterise politics. Forget the battered skeleton recently unearthed in a Leicester car park or the fact Shakespeare may have been spinning his own pro-Tudor propaganda: this is a play for today, a dark vision of power as addictive substance and the inconstancy of men – always reputed to be less easily swayed by sentiment than their wives. Once again, Andrew Hilton’s stripped-down approach to a classic pays off. If you haven’t yet tasted his potent brew, a visit to the Tobacco Factory is strongly recommended.

  • Richard III at the Tobacco Factory, Bristol until 30 March
This is a play for today, a dark vision of power as addictive substance and the inconstancy of men


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Probably the most riveting central performance (James Mackay) from this play I have seen, and the Iate scene opposite Edward IVs widow was incredible ; just a shame I saw it so late in its run there is no time to recommend to others.

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