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Mocking stage-manager of self-destruction

In his engrossing staging of Richard III, director Steven Pimlott fully embraces Hamlet's advice. Rarely have words and action been so suited. Just as the language of this early Shakespeare play is formal, rhetorical and artificial, so too, set, costume, movement and speaking are non-naturalistic and stylised. No realistic battle of Bosworth here.

Pimlott gives full weight to the dreams, curses and predictions that suffuse the play. The set is a three-fold dreamworld: an icy Godot-like foreground complete with blasted tree; a claustrophobic steel grey box; and a black featureless gallery. These three symbolic spaces are inhabited by beautifully dressed playing-card figures from a nightmare "Alice in Wonderland", framed by the eerily swaying ghosts of Richard's victims.

The production takes on the form of Greek tragedy in its chorus of three black-clad citizens, Hastings' prophecy, and the magnificently staged scenes of the three mourning queens and Richard's cursing by his own mother.

In this hallucinatory world, David Troughton plays Richard as Mr Punch, a malevolently bustling stage-manager who orchestrates his own rise and fall.

His mocking sense of theatre is all-pervasive, from his opening court-jester routine, through his ceaseless burlesque of the language (he manages to extract five syllables from both "execution" and "exclamation"), to his final stepping out of the play at the end, to greet Richmond's closing words with sardonic applause.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre Stratford-Upon-Avon. In repertory until January 1996. Tel: 01789 296655.

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