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By Jarrod• 17 Jan 2015
The Bacchanals have kicked off Wellington theatre for 2015 with their 15th birthday production - a rendition of Shakespeare’s Richard III that, while emphasising the ‘comic’ in ‘tragicomic’, shows they can still turn on the ‘tragi’ when required.
They lay the metaphor on pretty thick, here: references to present-day politics are inserted throughout, much to the delight of the opening-night audience (I won’t spoil the jokes, but they are numerous). Suffice to say that Shakespeare presents King Richard III as a unscrupulous and dissembling villain who gains power through backstabbing and dishonesty, and some people might choose to see current parallels in that…
In this production, Richard III exists not so much in a particular period of history as it does almost out of time, blending some vaguely old-timey costuming with numerous more modern trappings as required. This time around, The Bacchanals have taken significant (and welcome) inspiration from musicals when constructing the world of the play; this is to particularly striking effect during Richard III’s climactic final battle.
As is sometimes the case with modern productions of Shakespeare’s work, there are occasions where the dialogue can be hard to follow; the fact that there are so many characters to keep track of has the potential to make things even worse. On opening night this was occasionally exacerbated by some actors rushing through their lines too quickly, making them even more difficult to understand. In any case, taking a quick look over the Cliffs Notes (or Wikipedia summary) of the play would be useful pre-attendance homework, although you’ll certainly get the general idea regardless.
A particularly fine detail in this production is the casting of actual children in several small but key roles. It’s a small thing, but extremely effective in highlighting the enormity of Richard’s villainy in the later acts of the play. There are numerous other good casting choices throughout - but perhaps the most inspired is Brianne Kerr’s turn as The Duchess of York, Richard’s mother. Her performance alone is worth seeing this play for.
Richard III (BATS)