Richard III ****

Richard III at the Bard in the Botanics is played by a cast of three, staged in the corridor of a conservatory and has been cut to 90 minutes.  These facts make it sound either gimmicky or geared towards students.  But make no mistake: this is harrowing theatre at its best.

Gordon Barr’s directional choices are quite brave, but everything pays handsome dividends.  With only three actors, the audience is forced to pay far more attention to the text.  The cuts are a bit harsh and at times don’t allow for some of the supporting characters to be fleshed out, but the end result is that everything flows at a quick pace and draws everyone in to Richard’s plan, almost making the audience into co-conspirators.

Mark Prendergast and Nicole Cooper have the rather difficult job of playing every supporting character.  The roles are evenly split, with each actor required to play multiple ages and both sexes.  Each is better at some than others, but the overall result is rather impressive, and one never wishes that further players had been hired.

But any production of this play hinges on its lead, and here Barr is given a phenomenal performance by Grant O’Rourke as Richard.  It is a brave performance that never skirts any previous incarnations or preconceived notions.  O’Rourke’s Richard is enamoured with himself, taking delight in the mayhem he creates.  He teeters between emotions well, and one is never sure what he is going to do next or how he’s going to react.  It is an excellent performance that is more than worth the admission alone.

With its short running time and small cast, this Richard III could have easily been nothing more than a weak attempt at a great play.  Instead, through intelligent direction and passionate ensemble performances, an excellent production has emerged.  Both fans and novices of Shakespearean work will probably be more than impressed.

Playing in the Botanic Gardens of Glasgow (weather permitting) until August 1.

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