Masterful lunacy is on display in devilish ‘Richard III’

by David Dixon

Photo by Henry DiRocco

Can a three-hour epic about a narcissistic jerk make for a satisfying night of theatre? Of course it can, if the book is smart and the right performer makes the part his own.Both these qualities are evident in The Old Globe’s production of William Shakespeare’s historical play, “Richard III.”

Set in modern day England, Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Jay Whittaker) is revealed as a man who embodies pure evil within minutes after his stage entrance.

Act I is about Richard’s deadly rise to power, which results in numerous murders and complicated deceptions. This makes for a more straightforwardact, as it depicts Richard’s demise by the good-hearted Earl of Richmond (Dan Amboyer). He is such a likeable hero it is hard not to root for him in his attempts to defeat Richard in battle.

The main reason to attend this production is because of Whittaker’s unhinged, crazy and wickedly funny portrayal of the deformed tyrant. His masterful reading of Shakespeare’s text alternates between subtle and grand, often in the same line of dialogue.

As Richard, Whittaker is at his most frightening after he becomes king. Richard rules his people like a mad despot, and a late speech evokes images of dictators, such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

Director Lindsay Posner keeps things lively on stage, even when the story gets extremely complex. His decision to adapt the real life 15th century events to the 21st century works very well, especially in the memorable climax during the Battle of Bosworth Field.

With so much going on in thisparticular scene, Posner stages an ending with one of the more action packed finales the Shakespeare Festival has produced in recent years. From a directorial standpoint, this is “Richard III” at its best.

The only flaws in this otherwise terrific interpretation are two major scenes written by Shakespeare, which go on far too long. Though Queen Margaret (Robin Moseley) is a very interesting character, there is a big moment early on where she curses Richard and some of the men working for him. This sounds blasphemous, but Shakespeare dwells too much on this and the plot momentarily sags.

Another sequence that is longer than necessary is when all the people Richard is responsible for murdering appear as ghosts. While the scene starts out being spooky, they all keep on repeating the same point: Earl is good and will live, Richard is bad and will die.

The excellent news is both of the aforementioned issues only last for a few minutes. While they deserve to be trimmed, the basic foreshadowing should be kept in the future.

By far the blackest of the three plays currently at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, “Richard III” is easy to recommend, especially to witness Whittaker’s continued rise as a great actor. His whole commitment to showing the worst of mankind is something to behold.

Tickets and information about “Richard III” can be found at