The almost magical power of words in Shakespeare's Richard III is emphasised in Steven Pimlott's original and riveting production (Royal Shakespeare Company, Barbican). Queen Margaret's prophetic curses set the tone as Richard dispenses with his remaining rivals, seizes the crown and is himself defeated at Bosworth. Proverbial phrases and superstitious tropes scattered through the text are given choric weight and David Troughton as the hunchback delights in drawing attention to strained rhymes in, for instance, pairing "me" with "majesty".
Troughton's performance brilliantly combines mischievous black comedy, a stand-up comic's relationship with the audience and well-observed psychology. This embittered, physically twisted creature feels he owes the world a bad turn. Speedy in his halting movement, sometimes explicitly playing the jester in cap and bells he prefers sinister jokiness to evil.
It is a tribute to the production - there are other strong performances, notably from Susan Brown as Elizabeth and John Nettles as Buckingham - that it is not swamped by the ugly alienating set, a combination of modernist office and bilious yellow wasteland. The black purgatorial area downstage has its uses, however, allowing Richard's victims to glimmer in ultra-violet lit isolation.
Theatre studies students should hurry to see Euripides' Phoenician Women (RSC, the Pit) where Katie Mitchell's austerely moving production features mesmerising ensemble work which interweaves movement, sung and spoken word.
Heather Neill Richard III: running time three and a half hours: tickets 0171 638 8891