Review: Richard III (Ensemble Theatre)

ensembletheatreVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jun 24 – Jul 19, 2014.
Also playing at Riverside Theatres (Parramatta NSW). 22 July – 26 July.
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Actors: Danielle Carter, Patrick Dickson, Matt Edgerton, Mark Kilmurry, Amy Mathews, Toni Scanlan

Theatre review
Tales about Machiavellian ambition are timeless. The darkest parts of human nature often relate to our ability to compromise morality in order to satisfy the urges of greed and vanity. Political climates seem to evolve, but shades of betrayal and deceit are persistent. As long as the need for kings and leaders remain, the threat of malice at the highest rungs will always be present.

Mark Kilmurry’s direction of Richard III is colourfully creative, but faithful. His playful style ensures that we are consistently involved with his stage (even when the Shakespearean language becomes challenging) but his artistic liberties are careful to keep original intentions intact. Kilmurry’s creation is a rich theatrical experience that explores the collaborative nature of the art form thoroughly. Cast and creatives are allowed freedom of expression, which in turn encourages a level of audience engagement that is sophisticated, intelligent and surprisingly enjoyable. As leading man, Kilmurry is mesmerising, delightful and appropriately repulsive. He invites us to share his love of the text, and everything within it that is genius and delicious. It is a supremely confident performance by a skilled showman who knows how to steer a vehicle, and we are his trusting happy passengers.

Danielle Carter’s portrayal of Queen Elizabeth is enigmatic and very strong. Her impressive presence is utilised effectively, and the solid stillness in her performance contrasts and stands out from a busy production. Carter’s scenes of confrontation with Kilmurry are especially dynamic. The chemistry and timing between both actors are phenomenal, forging moments of gold for fans of high drama. Matt Edgerton plays a total of five characters. This is a tall order, and one of the show’s few misjudged decisions, but Edgerton’s energy and focus are entrancing. This is an adventurous cast with a passion for their work that has elevated a classic play into an event brimming with charm, wit and poignancy. Amy Mathews closes the show with a soliloquy that is heartfelt and starkly genuine, reminding us of the gravity in Richard III‘s story and evils that prevail in our world.

The production’s design and technical aspects are equally accomplished. Set, props and costumes are subtle but evocative, all contributing to the small space an aesthetic that is beautifully au courant. Nicholas Higgins’ lighting and Daryl Wallis’ sound design are sensitively considered, never drawing undue attention to themselves, but consistently adding to the action on stage. Stage manager Rebecca Poulter should also take a bow for the incredibly smooth running of what must be a complicated backstage and control booth, to which we are completely impervious.

Kilmurry is a leader of fabulous talent. His show is brilliantly put together, and everyone he enlists is showcased marvelously. Shakespeare’s work is probably not very much about democracy, but drawing parallels with our own governmental structures is irresistible. It provokes questions about secrecy in high offices, and the trust we lay upon the people we elect. It prompts us to remember the value of irreverence that is so much a part of our national identity, and to cherish our ability in this country to question authority. We must not forget that the bastards do need to be kept honest.