Review: Richard Armitage in The Crucible at the Old Vic
Review: Nick Payne's The Art of Dying at the Royal Court

Review: Martin Freeman is Richard III at the Trafalgar Studios

Richard3-trafalgarWhen Jamie Lloyd chooses an office setting for Shakespeare's play about a Machiavellian hunchback king with Martin "Tim" Freeman as the lead then references to sitcom The Office are inevitable. Aren't they?

However, the office context is problematic but not because of the association. Freeman's performance is as far removed from Tim as you can get. He reminded me a little of Bruno Gantz's Hitler in the film Downfall crossed with a British politician. Both wholly appropriate for a character that is a master of manipulation but with murderous tendencies when that doesn't work.

The office is more of a problem with the set and staging. The stage is crammed with desks leaving little open performance space. In hampering the movement of the actors it felt like it was holding them and the action back.  But not only this, Lloyd's office is in the 1970s and by the interval I was struggling to see what either was adding.

OK so there is a nice use of a Newton's cradle adding a rhythmic pulse to a murder scene and lift doors made an effective entry point but other touches just made it feel a little like a slightly dodgy 70s sitcom. For example, at one point the lift doors (which were quite wobbly) opened and closed repeatedly as if possessed and then there are exploding electrics when Queen Margaret arrives to issue her curse.

In Tweets Lloyd promised a bloody and violent Richard III and it is certainly that but again in the office context it sometimes felt a little overblown. I'm a big fan of stage blood but on this occasion it looked like it had been applied with a little too much excited generosity back stage. If indeed he was going for 70s sitcom feel, maybe that was the point but it didn't feel like it was for laughs.

Of course there are laughs in Richard III and Freeman played them brilliantly. In fact it is probably in the mannerisms and attitude of the characters that most felt in tune with the 70s theme.

Overall this felt like a production which was 'because we can' rather than 'because we should' and it will be remembered not for Martin Freeman's fab performance but having a production that hindered rather than enhanced the play.

It was second preview so perhaps some things will change. But, what do I know, it got a standing ovation, although not from me, ovations are gold medal gestures that are more potent when selectively bestowed and I truly didn't think it was worthy.

Sorry Jamie Lloyd but this wasn't on a par with Propeller's Richard III, it wasn't really close. Disappointed. I think @polyg has slightly more generous views.

It runs at the Trafalgar Studios until 27 September.


Martin Freeman was in Love Actually in which Hugh Grant also appeared and Hugh Grant was in Cloud Atlas with Mr W, the latter playing his wife in one scene. And, just in case, MF and HG's paths didn't cross while filming Love Actually they both voiced characters in Pirates! An Adventure with Scientists.