by Rachel Beaumont

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What a whopper: Richard III at Alexandra Palace Theatre

Richard III
Alexandra Palace Theatre
Circle, H1, £13, moved forwards to the front of the Circle
19 March 2019
AP page

An inoffensively generic Richard III was enlivened by two things: its being the play to reopen the new old Alexandra Palace Theatre, a grand old place indeed; and its enjoying the dubious glamour of being heckled by an unhappy member of the audience, who loudly worried Tom Mothersdale’s Richard with accusations of the lack of psychological truth to his actions. Presumably someone for whom a trip to the theatre is a rare event.

Because there’s not really anything to get upset about in director John Haidar’s Richard III for Headlong, nor that excited about either. Designs by Chiara Stephenson are dark and Gothic and well designed for touring, even if the tight doorways do present the odd challenge for the actors; Elliott Griggs’s lighting design is similarly Gothic and very tightly timed; sound design by George Dennis is as post-The Matrix as you could like and fills the boomy space of the enormous AP Theatre in thrilling fashion.

Mothersdale almost always remembers his limp and lurches round the stage with adequate if not quite sufficient admixture of charm and venom. He’s the best of the cast around him, though I did like Tom Kanji’s transformation from tremulous Clarence into vile Catesby, and Stefan Adegbola’s calm and delirious height as Buckingham. I could barely hear a word spoken by Derbhle Crotty as Elizabeth, Leila Mimmack as Anne and Norfolk or Eileen Nicholas as the Duchess of York, but I’m sure at least some of the blame rests with the miking. They all rattle through the play, very well rehearsed, very professional, but not with a whole lot of interest.

This might, to be fair, be in part due to the theatre, magnificent though it is. Probably touching on too magnificent for a provincial theatre, in the sense that going 110mph in a 20mph zone is going a touch too fast. I fear for the future of a theatre of this capacity this far from central London, on top of a stonking great hill to boot – but maybe I shouldn’t be so pessimistic after one exposure. Maybe I should expect to see ENO’s Paul Bunyan there this summer filled to the rafters. Maybe.

Aside from emphasizing the tininess of an audience, the theatre’s great girth also lends a tininess to the actors and their voices (although perhaps it would have been better if they’d used the proscenium arch instead of constructing a stage in front of it), as well as a massiveness to the distance between audience and actors – all, arguably, fitting sacrifice in return for marvel that self-same girth induces. It is a truly impressive place, dilapidated à la Wilton’s Music Hall but on an Olympian scale. The restoration seems sensitive (disclosure: I gave them a princely £25 towards it), balancing boho chic with sound expenditure on some really plush peach seating, although not, this evening, on a working ticketing system. I can only hope they’ll be able to start making it back.

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