Far be it from me to associate a political vacuum and conniving self-promotion with current members of The Conservative party, but there’s something very ‘Brexit’ about Shakespeare’s Richard III.
The infamous Gloucester returns to stage at the Almeida Theatre portrayed by Ralph Fiennes who encapsulates every dirty trick, selfish move and each wry smile of the scheming Duke with panache as he rapes, murders and manoeuvres his way to the throne.
The old King wouldn’t look at all out of place in today’s fractious political landscape. A Prime Minister who selfishly sacrificed the national interest to secure a Commons majority only to be outmanoeuvred by a former Etonian chum who was then ousted by a co-Brexiteer. It’s Machiavellianism at its best.
Which makes Rupert Goold’s modern adaption all the more gripping. An archaeological dig welcomes punters as they filter in to the theatre in reference to the recent excavation of Richard III’s body in a car park in Leicester, and cast members don contemporary wears and even use smart phones.
It intends to be modern, and it intends to be of relevance to the current political landscape. As City AM’s Steve Dineen notes, it is “the ideal play for these post-facts times, where rhetoric is no longer anchored to reality and fear is the prevailing political currency”. As Donald Trump threatens to hijack the US political system with his contorted brand of republicanism and “acts of unspeakable violence play out with crushing regularity in the name of fear and hatred” it is fair to say that we have never been “so close to the winter of our discontent”.
Fiennes is joined by a strong cast which includes such heavyweights as Vanessa Redgrave, Finbar Lynch, Aislín McGuckin, Daniel Cerqueira and Simon Coates. Aside from its clear political connotations, the treatment of women is a focal issue which comes to a head when the misogynist Richard violently rapes Elizabeth on stage, a scene that stands out compared to the more timid treatment of murder.
Although critics have been quick to disregard this as unnecessary, it underpins Fiennes’s interpretation of Richard as an assertively masculine character with a ruthless contempt for women. That, linked with its timeless undertones of geo-political unpleasantness, makes this a very worthwhile watch.