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Richard III - GRADS

Reviewed by Kate O'Sullivan


GRADS's Summer Shakespeare at the New Fortune has become a staple of the local theatre calendar, and this year's offering, Richard III, is a modern take on the rise and fall of the titular character. Drawing parallels to the modern royal family, we get an insightful discussion of power dynamics in politics and the corruption that can ensue. As is to be expected from director Dr. Melissa Merchant, this is definitely one for the Shakespeare lovers - the plot is clear (even for those who aren't the most familiar with Shakespearean verse), and the relationships are clearly established. Performed in two acts, this is a long evening of theatre coming in at close on 3 hours including a 20(ish) minute interval.

There are some powerful individual performances in this show. Of particular note are Grace Edwards as Queen Elizabeth, an emotional and heart wrenching performance, Kate Elder in the calm power and resignation of the Duchess of York, and Tony Petani as both Clarence and the Lord Mayor, with clear differentiation physically and vocally. Kaitlyn Barry and Madelaine Page embraced their inner children as the Princes of the Tower, and Patrick Downes gives a beautifully varied performance as Buckingham. Alex Comstock gives a solid performance as Richard III, especially in the more paranoid moments, but does at times waver in his power dynamics and physicality - a difficult task when embodying a character with physical limitations that the performer doesn't have themselves. At times some of the minor characters were harder to hear, especially when facing more upstage where the openness of the venue worked against them without good acoustic bounce, but in general the cast worked well as a unit, with swift transitions between scenes and good rapport.

From a technical standpoint, this show took advantage of the large stage of the New Fortune, including the balcony and all the aisles through the audience. This kept the audience connected with the show throughout (with the notable inclusion of some audience interaction), and allowed for some tension, especially in the later scene with Richard III and Elizabeth both teetering on the metaphoric and literal edge. Lighting was effectively used during the balcony scene between Richmond and Darby, but the use of a full stage wash through the majority of the show did remove some of the atmosphere in more intimate moments. The costuming was clear, delineating each character and defining the time period clearly, and assisting the audience to keep track of the different characters of those actors playing multiple roles.

There was some interesting use of additional audio through the show as well - the use of the throbbing heart beat effect gave us atmosphere in scene changes that kept the show moving, and the use of voice over rather than on stage spoken lines during the ghost scene was a solid addition. However, due to the location of the speakers in the venue (being low down by the front of the stage), there was a distinct difference between the stage volume and the speaker volume which somewhat took away from the effectiveness of an otherwise excellent idea.

Take the opportunity if you can as the season only runs until the 18th of March, with shows starting at 7.30pm.

Alex Comstock (Richard III) and Grace Edwards (Queen Elizabeth).

Reviewer note: Kate has previously performed with GRADS, and used to work for University Theatres. Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company.


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