Photo by Dominic Maxwell
Even though we made our traditionally early arrival at the Tobacco Factory to see Richard III, we were astonished to find the queue to get into the theatre winding right out of the bar and down the stairs to the box office, with the result that instead of getting a seat at the front with an almost-part-of-the-cast view, my son and I found ourselves in the back row, craning to see around one of the pillars.
‘Just because they found him under a car park!’ another regular said to me, wearily.
And when he comes onto the stage to deliver his opening soliloquy, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, (played by John Mackay) does indeed resemble a skeleton. Tall and bony, with cropped white hair and a white face blackened about the eyes, he starts the play as he ends it – no flawed, flesh-and-blood hero brought down by overweening ambition, but the personification of depravity. Mackay’s Richard is the archetypal psychopath who, devoid of empathy and conscience, murders as much to divert himself from what he sees as the pointlessness of existence as to achieve the power he craves, and often, horrifyingly, the audience finds itself laughing along with him.
In a play that is dominated by its villain, the rest of the cast put in sterling performances. I was especially moved by Nicki Goldie’s portrayal of the Duchess of York, the only character who truly knows Richard for what he is, having given birth to him. But it is Richard who charms, entertains, disgusts and mesmerises, often all at the same time, right up to the end when he lies dead on Bosworth Field, his long limbs curled up in a way that is fittingly reminiscent of a dead spider.
On the long trek back to the car, I found myself wondering whether Richard III might have availed himself of the nearby Aldi car park, were he still living, or would he have feared returning to find that his horse - assuming one had been procured for him - hobbled? I doubt we shall ever know the truth.