Adjoa Andoh’s captivating Richard III shines in innovative production at the Rose Theatre

Kingston’s Rose Theatre has once again brought Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, Richard III, to life. Headlining the play is Andjoa Andoh, who takes double duty as lead actor and director. Andoh takes a lot of interesting chances in this production which, for the most part, are successful.

This famous play has captivated audiences for centuries with its dark and complex portrayal of the infamous King Richard III, who ruthlessly rises to power in a bloody quest for the English throne.

I was immediately drawn in by Andoh’s captivating portrayal of the future king. Andoh injected a lot of herself into the production, particularly in her depiction of Richard. She brought a cockiness to the character that made her performance reminiscent of Tyrion from Game of Thrones.

Andoh is well-known for her role in the popular TV series Bridgerton, and her talents on the stage only further demonstrate her versatility as an actor. Andoh’s interpretation of the infamous King Richard III was nuanced and powerful, capturing the character’s complex and conflicting motivations with grace and skill.

Despite the heinous acts committed by Richard throughout the play, Andoh’s portrayal captivates the audience to the character early on. Richard’s seductively rogue-is charm makes it all the more tragic when events take their inevitable course. Andoh’s impeccable timing and ability to convey a wide range of emotions were on full display throughout the play, highlighting her great sympathy for the title character.

One example is when Richard woos the recently widowed Lady Anne (played by Phoebe Shepherd). Andoh teases Shepherd, making Richard seem boyish and lighthearted. Their back-and-forth comes off as genuine, and you can see how Richard’s way with words has got him so far.

Andoh’s Richard III and Daniel Hawksford Richmond face off Photo: Manuel Harlan

While this is a tragedy, the play rarely feels particularly tragic due to the underlying levity that permeates the production. Andoh’s decision to play Richard thus Othering him by making him black challenges traditional interpretations of the character.

Her interpretation urges us to scrutinise our observations and provides commentary on issues of colour, race, and the experience of being coerced into malevolence by prejudice. It’s a profound and exhilarating concept that offers a completely different perspective on the narrative.

However, unfortunately, it fails to have a significant impact on the stage adaptation. Visually, the themes work well as Andoh is the only person of colour in the cast. The problem comes from the themes of race and prejudice not being reinforced by the text of the play, which detracts from the overall impact of the message.

Nevertheless, the look and feel of the play are exquisite, with set design by Amelia Jane Hankin and costuming by Maybelle Laye creating a believable world. The use of a massive tree as the throne in the centre of the stage, white garments inspired by West Country Morris dancing and traditional Indian costume give the production a pagan feel.

The story is skilfully guided by music and harmony, resembling a traditional folk tale conveyed through ballads. As the title character descends into madness, the music mirrors his emotions. The final fight is transformed into a poetic performance, acknowledging that this tale of war will eventually become history. This innovative approach effectively captures the quintessential themes found in Shakespearean narratives.

There are some big swings that not everyone will appreciate, such as turning some of the famous lines and monologues into songs and the use of a Bunraku-style puppet to portray a character. 

For me, both deviations added a freshness to the text that added a style and flair that would be sadly missed had this been a standard production. The puppetry was performed well- however the sequence was odd, with the head puppeteer Joshua Day acting against himself in a way that took me out of the scene.

When it came to the parts of the script replaced by music, the music was appropriate, well-produced and it accurately displayed the emotions of the scene.

To those unaccustomed to watching a Shakespeare production, this play is a great jumping-on point. All the actors conveyed their lines with force and conviction, making the intent clear even if not every detail is understood.

For Shakespeare connoisseurs, this production has it all: exasperating love, powerful depictions of anguish and fury, as well as speeches that flow with a poetic cadence that accelerates as the impending doom looms closer.

Richard III is running until May 13 at the Rose Theatre in Kingston.

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