Richard III

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow

Neil Cooper


THERE is a moment in Jennifer Dick's four-actor adaptation of one of Shakespeare's longest plays when the audience for her Bard in the Botanics production in the Kibble Palace are goaded into joining in a chant of 'witches.' The rabble-rousing chorale is aimed at Vanessa Coffey's Queen Elizabeth, at the time the most powerful woman in the room. This is duly filmed by a cheer-leading entourage, presumably with the aim of streaming it online.

The moment is the perfect illustration of how political discourse can descend into ugly name-calling when populist ideologues dog-whistle their frontline cannon fodder into action. Neither is it hard to see parallels with those who today would chase female politicians down the street in packs, haranguing them as they go.

This is the world whipped up with malevolent relish in Dick’s own production by Robert Elkin's Richard, a camouflage-clad bundle of fury, whose strapped-up arm gives him an endless point to prove. This sees him posing for a picture with a murdered corpse. Slain by Richard’s own hand, the body now resembles a trophy, the evidence of which looks set to be hung on the wall alongside his other prey.

As he makes his bid for power, with Adam Donaldson's weasel-like Buckingham in tow, Richard's world is one of press conferences and photo-ops, and of duplicitous marriages of ambition as he takes advantage of Kirsty McDuff's shell-shocked Lady Anne. Elkin storms his way up and down the Kibble, flanked by a contrasting mixture of domestic and state paraphernalia on Carys Hobbs’ set.

As he finally achieves his ambition and unsure what to do next, Richard goes on the offensive. Out of this comes a world of paranoia and back-stabbing betrayal, as he is inevitably outsmarted by those who would similarly be king in what might be the most telling political play of our time.