Clinton copies a king;Reviews;Set plays

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
RICHARD lll. Royal Shakespeare Company.

Director Elijah Moshinsky is in no doubt about the relevance today of Shakespeare's Richard III.

The beleaguered President Clinton appeared on television between two spiritual advisers the very morning that Moshinsky's Royal Shakespeare Company cast rehearsed the scene in which Richard appears between two holy men in order to persuade the citizens of London to acclaim him as king.

But for all its contemporary relevance, this will not be a modern dress production. "We use medieval settings to put it within a context of the Wars of the Roses. It allows us to tell the story of dynastic wars and the political conflict between the rival families."

Moshinsky adds that the language of the play - formal, ritualised, full of curses and predictions - is "another major reason why it has to be done within its own period".

The charismatic Robert Lindsay plays Richard. He has already delivered a lethally funny Cyrano de Bergerac under Moshinsky's direction. That experience augurs well for his performance as Shakespeare's bottled spider: homicidal but appealing.

Moshinsky encourages his actors to find a human motive for everything in the play: "For Richard there are many fascinating choices. His deformity is more important than the death of his father and brother at the hands of his political enemies. I take his hump, withered arm and limp to be expressions of his difficult birth, but his key motive is desire for power."

The supernatural elements pose staging problems for every director. Moshinsky has an intriguingly imaginative solution for the ghosts who return to taunt Richard in his dream the night before his final battle. "The ghosts of these victims of dynastic murder appear, not in Richard's sleep, but on the battlefield. They destroy him, fighting for Richmond."

That very active staging of the workings of retribution and Christian conscience combine in the final moment of Moshinsky's production. "The ending is a kind of religious cleansing. Richmond says they are going to partake of the sacrament - and so we do."

Moshinsky perceives a "strange relevance" in that ending: "Some may see it as mirroring a desire to clean up the oval office that's been soiled in some way - but such inferences we leave to the audience."

opens at Stratford-upon-Avon on October 27, and afterwards tours to Woking, Cardiff, Bradford and Bath (Stratford Box office 01789 295623)

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