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The Tragedy of King Richard III - Theatre Review

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by Damsel Martin (subscribe)
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It's Shakespeare, but not as you know it
tragedy king richard la boite theatre shakespeare brisbane queensland
The Tragedy of King Richard III. Image by Dylan Evans.

In 2012, in the British Midlands, a skeleton with trademark signs of scoliosis was recovered from a shallow, unmarked grave underneath a supermarket carpark. Examination revealed it to be the skeleton of the villainous monarch Richard III, who was killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field more than 500 years earlier.

This curious discovery unleashed in writers Marcel Dorney and Daniel Evans (both of whom have won Queensland Premier's Drama Awards) a renewed fascination not only with the dead monarch but with the role of William Shakespeare on contemporary culture. For Shakespeare's play Richard III, riddled with historical inaccuracies and half truths, has been the prism through which Britain's last warrior king has been relentlessly portrayed.

tragedy king richard la boite theatre shakespeare brisbane queensland
The Tragedy of King Richard III. Image by Dylan Evans.

Sharing the spirit of those who dug up the twisted bones of the long-dead king, Dorney and Evans thus view their new work, The Tragedy of King Richard III, playing at La Boite until 11 June, as something of an 'excavation'. They sought to explore the remarkable staying power of Shakespeare's portrayal of the original psychopath and the largely unacknowledged role his actions have had upon the course of our own history.

The Tragedy of King Richard III provides a window back into more brutal times. (Spoiler alert: I was terribly distressed by the scene involving a drowned puppy.) Rather than turn away from the bloody violence unleashed on stage, however, audience members are urged to 'go on, have a look', as two men grapple in a space which shifts from a ancient battlefield, to a contemporary carpark, to the current stage.

tragedy king richard la boite theatre shakespeare brisbane queensland
The Tragedy of King Richard III. Image by Dylan Evans.

There are elements of the original production in this contemporary version - namely, Richard III's ruthless quest for power, and his willingness to murderously remove any obstacles barring his accession to the throne. There are even a few familiar lines, including the oft-quoted, 'A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!'

But The Tragedy of King Richard III diverges in its approach from the traditional production. Through narrative asides, time-shifts and a range of other clever devices, the audience is never allowed to forget that what they're watching is but one interpretation of 'the truth'. Did Richard III, as is popularly rumoured, order the death of the two little princes (his nephews) in the Tower of London? Did he really possess a soul as twisted as his spine? Shakespeare, too, gets the revisionist treatment. Is he the Elizabethan era's enduring poet laureate, or a playwright whose relevance has long since passed?

tragedy king richard la boite theatre shakespeare brisbane queensland
The Tragedy of King Richard III. Image by Dylan Evans.

Such an irreverent approach won't suit everyone, but I found it both challenging and refreshing. There is a wild irrepressible experimental energy that reigns supreme (he he) within La Boite's Roundhouse Theatre. If you like your theatre raw, this is absolutely the place to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. Also lending impact, immediacy and excitement to the production were effects including strobe lighting, smoke haze, blackouts, and foul language - generously employed, but never overdone.

Now, to a couple of niggles. At the risk of invoking the adage 'if it's too loud, then you're too old', I found the volume ear-splitting at times. I wasn't alone in this: the man seated next to me jammed his thumbs into his ears several times and, when this failed, balled a torn-up tissue into makeshift earplugs. The ample use of water - splashed from buckets, squeezed from sponges, and poured from a great height - was no doubt selected for its symbolism, but the sheer volume of it was distracting. (The actors were mostly soaked to the skin by the end of the show and, with the approach of winter, all I could think was how cold they must have been.)

tragedy king richard la boite theatre shakespeare brisbane queensland
The Tragedy of King Richard III. Image by Dylan Evans.

Cast members include Naomi Price (Channel 9's The Voice Australia; QTC's Ladies in Black; Little Red Company's Rumour Has It) and Artistic Director of La Boite Todd MacDonald (Director Medea, Prize Fighter), who performs on the La Boite stage for the first time. The production also features Brisbane treasures Helen Howard (La Boite's The Glass Menagerie, Hamlet), Pacharo Mzembe (La Boite's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Prize Fighter) and Amy Ingram (QTC's I Want to Know What Love Is).

Evans says The Tragedy of King Richard III sits between the divide of what Shakespeare wrote, and who Richard actually was. 'It's a ruthless, liquefied world,' he says. 'It's a messy show it's sticky, it's slippery.' So that explains all the water.

tragedy king richard la boite theatre shakespeare brisbane queensland
The Tragedy of King Richard III. Image by Dylan Evans.



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Why? See history in a new light
When: Until 11 June
Phone: (07) 3007 8600
Where: La Boite Roundhouse Theatre, Musk Avenue, Kelvin Grove
Cost: $30 (student) to $70 (VIP including drink and program)
Your Comment
What a fantastic review - thank you. I won't get to see the show, but your review gives me a great sense of it. It sounds like a really interesting production - though I do feel a little chilly now, thinking about the poor soggy actors, ha.
by JMBowen (score: 1|52) 1178 days ago
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