Making Shakespeare both accessible and innovative is a constant struggle for theatre groups, yet Perth Theatre’s Richard III undeniably achieves this. Blending minimalistic sets with modern costumes, the cast breathes life and vigour into a classic tale.
The curtain opens to a sparse set featuring a folding table, plastic orange chairs and a plain white backdrop with clear views into backstage. This exposure is a continued theme throughout, with the audience having an insight into the moving of sets and bare theatre equipment used as central plot devices, including bright blue stairs acting as the Tower of London. The costumes are similarly stripped back, with mainly muted black, brown and grey materials chosen. The restrained staging ushers attention towards the action on stage, encouraging spectators to focus on the story and dialogue.
Despite the contrast between the contemporary costumes worn and the use of Shakespeare’s original text, the two blend together well. These features make the drama enjoyable for people with all levels of experience with Shakespeare, offering a unique modern take for those who are well-versed while clearly displaying the status and roles of characters for those who are not.
Joseph Arkley, playing Richard, is instantly enthralling and blends charisma and cunning malice expertly. From his first soliloquy Arkley commands the stage. He delivers a full-bodied performance including a subtle, dragging limp and rapidly changing facial expressions, which make the king’s long stretches of dialogue fascinating. Michael Moreland is especially impressive as Buckingham; paired with Peter Collins’ Ratcliffe, the two offer multi-layered performances that are in turn horrific and hilarious, truly embodying the complexities of political power and violence. The manipulative nature of these characters is also shown through their ability to change what the audience sees, as they open and close the curtains to conceal and reveal the action behind them – a clever and well-executed piece of staging.
There are points where the dialogue and character dynamics seem strained. This stands out particularly in the first scene of the second act where lines are rushed through and no real sense of tension is built despite the fraught story line. This lapse of energy is brief however, and as the second act progresses the conflict is built once more thanks to Arkley’s performance.
Perth Theatre’s Richard III is a stripped-back but highly-stylised rendition of a classic historical play. The focus placed on the characters and dialogue, paired with the interesting take on costume and staging, makes for an impressive piece of theatre.