Tragedy, black comedy, dubious history - this early play has elements of all three, but also some quality entirely its own which springs first of course from the 'blazing and brutal' Duke of Gloucester, and such words as come from [the soon-to-be-murdered] Clarence's dream, when he conjures 'a shadow like an angel with bright hair dappled in blood.' The Hampstead Players have taken this splendid hybrid with both hands - or perhaps one should say several pairs of hands - and under the direction of Ben Horslen and John Risebero given us a gripping and irresistible production.
Many talents blended to bring this about, but I have to start - as the play itself does - with Richard. Mark Young had clearly grasped the essence of this tyrant, crippled from birth in both mind and body, and gave us a man of marvellous complexity and dark humour. The character, for all his self-confessed villainy, has an especial magnetism, and this Mark exploited to the full; he had all our fascinated attention.
But such evil intent cannot operate without flint to strike on, and this was most accurately provided by others of the excellent cast, particularly Angela and David Gardner, as Elizabeth, Queen to the dying Edward, and Buckingham, who finds that when the chips are down, Richard is 'not in the giving vein.' The whole play moves with splendid force and moments of imaginative power; it heightened the sense of doom that the victims of Gloucester's homicide should stand ominously silent at the stage's side, beginning with 'false, fleeting, perjured Clarence', and stretching out like the line of Banquo's children. And how tellingly Adam Sutcliffe gave us the dark images of Clarence's dream.
And then Gaynor Bassey. Who would have thought Gaynor to have so many curses in her? Her interpretation of that avenging fury, old Queen Margaret, was magnificent, she cast her doom-laden prophecies across the stage and over us, so that we were both chilled and moved. This mood was carried forward by the dedication of all those who played the Lords and Princes who are fated to fulfil to the letter Margaret's foresight. I particularly remember the two young Princes, Alex Stuart and Sam Marriott. It was a telling moment when, as it were to the accompaniment of Tyrrel's description of their murder ['their lips like two red roses on a stalk'] they walked hand in hand solemnly and silently across the stage to join the fateful company of the dead. In lighter vein I much enjoyed Catesby - Nicholas White gave him the air of a successful Maitre d'hotel, who only loses his nerve when something blows up in the kitchen.
Through skilful lighting, and apt music, composed especially for the production by Joseph O'Brien, this drama of murder and ambition moves compellingly to Bosworth Field. And here we meet the conquering Richmond. As I read it, Henry the Seventh was a brilliant but wholly unattractive politician, but Shakespeare needed a hero, and heaven knows so did we after so much villainy and bloodshed, but perhaps we were not prepared for the marvellous transformation of Gaynor Bassey from the curse-laden Margaret into a valiant and attractive young commander, white in dress and virtue, and speaking with such native authority. Her quiet prayer moved us, and prepared us for the triumph of good over so much evil.
Such a production as this depends on the excellence of all involved - both on stage, or elsewhere in design, costume and sound. I am reminded of the remark of the crippled violinist Isaac Stern. He spoke of the necessity in an orchestra for each player to be aware, to give way, to have sympathy and understanding for the other. 'It's hard,' he said 'but nothing good comes easy.' Such a production of this play could not have come easy, but all those who took part will know that they produced a work to be relished and remembered.
We wish they joy in France.
Raymond / July 2003
Ham and High, 4th July 2003
Camden New Journal, 10th July 2003