Sword of deadly intent

2011-03-25 11:28

Political intrigue. Rampant ­ambition. Corrupting power. Sounds like a day in Parliament.

Only this story of a man’s bloody rise to wear the crown is set about 600 years ago and a ­continent away. Still, it’s as riveting and relevant today as it was when Richard Burbage and the King’s Men first performed it in 1623.

This is an incredibly clever ­retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Richard III, which debuted at the National Arts ­Festival last year.

With three ­actors taking on the myriad roles in the play, the trio makes use of masks to slip into their collection of characters.

David Dennis, Marcel Meyer and Anelisa Phewa each give an array of Herculean performances.

Ducking in and out of costumes and characters, they must be exhausted after every show. After all, the first half is 80 minutes long and the second is about 50.

Don’t let that put you off. The time flies by as the villainous Richard wields his sword of deadly cunning to cut down those who hinder him from absolute power.

Meyer is Richard and though the character is traditionally bent and broken with physical deformity, he holds back on this aspect, instead allowing his ­twisted, duplicitous mind to take centre stage.

Clad in a ­costume reminiscent of ­sadomasochistic gear, he is one of the Bard’s most unrepentant villains and one of his most famous.

His soliloquies are also some of the best known – from his first to his last. Trust me, you know them.

All three actors have some Shakespearean experience, but Dennis has the most, and his ­performance is the most arresting.

Shakespeare is written to be ­performed, and Dennis embodies every character he plays.

He is Buckingham, the nobleman who agrees to help Richard in his dastardly plan for ultimate power but who learns the lose-your-head way that a bloke who has done away with his brothers and his wife doesn’t value loyalty much.

He also dons the mask of ­Richard’s mother, The Duchess of York, who memorably says to her son: “To war take with you my most ­gravest curse.?.?.Bloody you are! Bloody will be your end!” As ­always, his mother turns out
to be right.

Phewa is the youngest of the trio and has the least experience of the Bard, yet he too acquits himself admirably in six roles – a big task for any actor.

The sadomasochistic theme ties into the basic story line of a royal house at war with itself – hurting as much as it hurts.

The spare stage hosts two doorways for ­entrances and exits, a cupboard clad in a cracked mirror, and a painting of both the red and white roses to depict the context – the War of the Roses.

This economical staging of a classic deserves to play to full houses.

If your children are ­reading Shakespeare – never mind which one – send them to this so that they can see the brute force of performance in telling a story.

If you have been a bit iffy about Shakespeare, you haven’t seen it performed enough. Remedy that with a visit to this production.

»? The Tragedy of Richard III is at the Market Theatre in Newtown, Johannesburg, until April 24. Book at Computicket

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