Head Above the Rest

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Review of 'Richard III' by William Shakespeare, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

'If you believe no one is born bad, that it's the world that makes them bad, then 'Richard III' becomes a fascinating play about the human condition.' So comments Michael Grandage, the director of a recent sell-out run of 'Richard III' at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre.

The actor who plays Derby in the production also comments that 'people are not physically beheaded in England (today) for disagreeing with whoever's in power, but they are politically beheaded.'

This production of 'Richard III' was only partially successful for me. The first half of the play did not unravel or rise above the complexities of the plotting and infighting of the Plantagenets. Kenneth Branagh's portrayal of Richard was witty, sharp and incisive, but the humour only served to make Richard look entirely evil and cynical--a bastard with a sense of humour! Grandage stated that this was not his intention: 'It's too easy to dismiss him as evil and think we have no responsibility to hold a mirror up to ourselves. Shakespeare shows us a man who feels compelled to rise above his lot in life.'

Branagh's portrayal of Richard's disability, however, was excellent. The staging of the play also worked well. The design team used the unusually deep stage space to the full with simple but imposing pillars and lighting effects.

Over a number of years Grandage's contribution to directing and programming at Sheffield has led to several excellent productions of classic plays. Earlier this year he was appointed artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse in London to take over from Sam Mendes. He will continue his involvement at Sheffield Theatres. Look out for Grandage's productions in Sheffield and at the Donmar Warehouse.