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Review: Richard III, by William Shakespeare, Red Rose Chain, The Avenue, until June 4

PUBLISHED: 16:28 11 May 2016 | UPDATED: 16:28 11 May 2016

Lawrence Russell as King Richard in Richard III, by Red Rose Chain at the Avenue Theatre, Ipswich

Lawrence Russell as King Richard in Richard III, by Red Rose Chain at the Avenue Theatre, Ipswich

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One of the reasons that Shakespeare remains incredibly popular and relevant to modern audiences is that his plays are endlessly adaptable. Fresh ideas can re-invent well known and much-loved plays and turn them into something new and allow them to speak to a new generation.

Kirsty Thorpe and Lawrence Russell as Lord Buckingham and Richard in Richard III, by Red Rose Chain at the Avenue Theatre, IpswichKirsty Thorpe and Lawrence Russell as Lord Buckingham and Richard in Richard III, by Red Rose Chain at the Avenue Theatre, Ipswich

Director Joanna Carrick’s take on Richard III is bursting with energy and ideas and has clearly been created to win the hearts and minds of new audiences. Jo has a well deserved reputation for delivering plays that are fast and imaginative. This is true of Richard III.

She sees Richard as a charmer. Set in the 30s, the age of the wireless and the Bakelite telephone, Richard seduces his audience, listens to his famous soliloquies as news broadcasts on the radio and schemes and murders his way to the throne.

Wanting the play to be accessible to new audiences, she highlights the humour and this is helped by the repeated doubling of characters but, as events turn darker, the comedy undermines the tragedy and the audience feels nothing as the death toll rises.

Lawrence Russell delivers a powerful performance as tank-top clad Richard relishing the opportunity to seduce his audience and confess his villainy. The rest of the roles are portrayed by Red Rose regulars Kirsty Thorpe, Edward Day and Rachael McCormick.

Edward Day as Queen Elizabeth grieiving over the death of the Princes in the Tower as Lawrence Russell as King Richard looks on  in Richard III, by Red Rose Chain at the Avenue Theatre, IpswichEdward Day as Queen Elizabeth grieiving over the death of the Princes in the Tower as Lawrence Russell as King Richard looks on in Richard III, by Red Rose Chain at the Avenue Theatre, Ipswich

Thorpe and Day form a double-act playing a succession of roles from Queen Elizabeth and Lord Buckingham to a pair of murderers. In reality this means that the pair leave through one door with Richard waving goodbye, then are greeted by the King seconds later re-entering through another door as another pair of characters.

It’s a fun device but means that the play lacks any real emotional impact. The simple office set which is quickly transformed into a morgue, a prison cell and a battle HQ is given added atmosphere by the lighting which emphasises the battle between light and dark/good and evil.

Joanna Carrick also makes the most of a complex sonic landscape, layering period music with sound effects, which whisks the audience from location to location.

You have to admire the energy and the commitment Red Rose Chain bring to their work. Engaging performances and plenty of imagination gives this Richard III a lot of charm but sadly too much humour destroys the emotional heart of one of Shakespeare’s darkest tragedies.

Andrew Clarke

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