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The War of The Roses: Richard III

Barrie Rutter has undertaken an ambitious staging of Shakespeare’s “The Wars of the Roses” with support from West Yorkshire Playhouse...

Published on May 3rd 2006.


The War of The Roses: Richard III

Adapted and Directed byBarrie Rutter

Barrie Rutter is the Artistic Director of Northern Broadsides. He has undertaken an ambitious staging of Shakespeare’s “The Wars of the Roses” with support and assistance from West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Shakespeare largely covered the whole war period in his three parts of Henry VI and Richard III. Whilst Richard chronologically ends the trilogy this was the first opening night performance at the Lowry. On Saturday 6th May at 11.00am there will be a performance of Henry VI, followed by Edward IV (a part of Henry VI) at 3.00pm and ending with Richard III at 7.30pm. A day not to be missed.

An epic drama that depicts some of the bloodiest events in English history, the “Wars of the Roses” are an enthralling saga of politics, power games, betrayals, bloody battles, anarchy and fiendish humour.

Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s best known plays. It has helped give Richard a reputation that many historians do not think are warranted by real events. In the play Richard longs for the Crown and institutes a reign of terror. What follows in his pursuit shows him to be completely ruthless, with him doing anything and everything necessary to wheedle his way to the throne and ultimate power. The methods he uses are barbarous. It is a remarkable play in many ways not least because audiences often warm to him and become almost co-conspirators in his devilish schemes.

After he reaches the throne the humour ceases and Richard’s route is downhill all the way. Killings, bloodshed and extermination do not protect him and his is finally overcome by Henry Tudor at Bosworth Field. “A horse, a horse! my kingdom for a horse!”. So starts a new era in English history.

This is a mighty performance of a marvellous play. It has gripped me since my father introduced me into the world of Laurence Olivier as a very young child. As I grew up I could see in my mind’s eye a wonderful portrayal of Gloucester/Richard by John Wood late in the 1970s at The National. But for anyone who saw it , the memory of Antony Sher playing “the bottled spider“ at Stratford in the mid 1980s will live forever.

It presents terrible problems with that provenance , so very well done Conrad Nelson. His interpretation is original and fascinating. Together with a strong supporting cast, the first half charting Gloucester’s diabolical path to the Throne is gripping and full of black humour exploited to the full by Mr Nelson.

In the second half, the breakneck decline and fall of Richard is marvellously staged. The ghost scene on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth Field is haunting and evocative . It is topped by a wonderful recreation of the Battle, with clogs, dancing and music. That the same Conrad Nelson composed the original score is a tribute to his immense versatility.

Barrie Rutter is inextricably intertwined with Northern Broadsides . His genius, commitment and enthusiasm created this Company 15 years ago. It is as fresh today as it was in the early 90’s. Mr Rutter’s long involvement with the RSC is well displayed by his adept direction here. So many perceptive insights, so much to admire.

If the rest of the week is as good as this local theatregoers are in for a real treat. Tonight at the Lowry was a pleasure.

Richard Burbage
May 2006

The Lowry, Manchester
Until Saturday 6th May 2006
Box Office 0870 787 5790 or book online at www.thelowry.com

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