I wasn't going to bother with Richard III. Mainly due to logistics/time getting to London and cose of tickets. However, I got lucky with the £15 Mondays deal and knew I'd regret not seeing it. In the end it was a desire to see what Jamie Lloyd (who I'm a big fan of) had done with the production and to see Jo Stone-Fewings as Buckingham, an actor who I've also long been a fan of and is a little more obscure than Mr Freeman.
Much has been made of this production in relation to the blood and the Freeman fans who were aparently just there to see Martin Freeman do Dick. (sorry it's a cheap joke but you have to admit a good one) I didn't have a problem with the latter (but I'll come to that later) and the blood well, there was a fair bit of it to be sure.
The production, I really loved. As I say I'm a fan of Jamie Lloyd and I really see what he was doing with this. In my nit-picking theatre brain I can call out a few things I wasn't sure of, but these are both nit-picky and personal preference. I'm not a fan of audience on stage, particularly when this seems to serve no purpose to the action. Although having audience on stage did serve the claustrophobic feeling of Soutra Gilmor's 1970s Cabinet office set, they didn't really add much to it. For an obvious comparison the NT's 'Our House' had audience members sat as though part of the House of Commons on stage, and had actors at times among them. This added to both set and atmosphere. The set-up in Richard III reminded me of this but didn't really engage in the same way. That said, there is of course argument for it not needing to serve purpose, but simply to allow a set of seats with a different audience perspective, which is valid.
Much has been made of the blood content in this production In addition to the cuts many of the off stage deaths are brought on stage, often in graphic detail. Much has been made of the violence and sheer volume of blood in this production (those in the first three rows are warned of being in a ‘splash zone’) and while, yes there was quite a bit of blood it didn't’ feel particularly gratuitous. That said, I've watched some very very bloody performances in my time, and I've also been watching a lot of Hannibal lately. I guess bloody is in the eye of the beholder. Seeing some of the usual off-stage deaths also brought characterisation or motivation home, further fleshing out what we already knew or felt about some characters. And I did "enjoy" seeing some graphic stage deaths in contrast to some where a slight poke with a sword induces death, or a bloodless gunshot kills everyone immediately. The deaths were long, graphic and drawn out at times, but realistic, something that modern Shakespeare should keep in mind-how in this setting would this character be murdered? how long would it take? how much blood? Lloyd has thought this through and the end fight-‘showdown’ actually seems more appropriate, made good use of an issue that troubles many modern-dress Shakespeare plays, how to deal with the imbalance between guns and swords. In this case effective use of guns versus the knives (rather than swords) across the play makes a profound statement of violence at its close. Also film fans of a certain age, there's a nice allegory to 'Seven' for one of the off-stage deaths. Now that was what I call a lot of blood.