Doing Shakespeare is hard, very hard. To convey all the meaning, subtlety and narrative while engaging the audience is no easy task, especially when a small company is limited by financial restraints.
That said, Godot’s Watch, Séan Aydon’s new theatre company made up of Manchester School of Theatre graduates, have made a noble attempt at Richard III at the Rosemary Branch Theatre. With the help of some very effective sound and lighting they have sent a bolt of electricity through Shakespeare’s play.
The opening scene was electric with the audience bolted by a flash of light from the four vertical lights at the back of the space. Richard (Sam Coulson) enters, as you would expect a Richard III to enter, but this particular manifestation of the limp was extremely effective. With the help of some subtle mic-ing and a very very low light, the power of his opening monologue was delivered to perfection. Such moments were regular throughout the performance. Important monologues and scenes were set off by effective music, mic-ing and lighting creating immense dramatic impact.
However, many of the main ensemble scenes and expositional sections failed to engage us and we found our mind wandering in these moments. At times it felt like the text was being rushed and one scene in particular did not benefit from the backing sound. A bit too much aisle acting showed bold direction and a desire for a bigger space, but gave us a crick in the neck. There were some contemporary references: the mobile phones were very effective, the coke less so. The mobile phones in particular helped to highlight the rhetorical nature of the writing. Richards moment with Siri was particularly enjoyable. This rhetorical writing also came out in a sort of Sméagol/Gollum take on one of the murderers.
The real moments of drama came, however, from the extremely visual storytelling, made the more effective by the technical elements. The murder of the Duke of Clarence and the murder of Lady Anne were very powerful and particularly dark given the musical accompaniment to the second murder. The ending of Act One was extremely visceral and memorable.
All in all this production showed great promise. The direction was extremely tight and the use of light and sound was of a quality you rarely see in theatre. It verged on cinematic at times, and I wondered what an exclusively visual production would be like. Certainly the promo trailer did a good job at enticing us to the show. Shakespeare – it’s a tough gig though. But this was a very good attempt.