Puppets with dolls' heads, Perspex sheeting, chainsaws and magicians' tricks are just some of the unlikely bedfellows in Propeller's ambitious production of Richard III, currently touring nationwide, along with the company's version of The Comedy of Errors, featuring the same cast.
Possibly Shakespeare's most famous history play has been transformed by the all-male company into the blackest of black comedies, as they blend sombre, serious drama with moments of slapstick. The result is an inventive, memorable but somewhat disturbing evening. Michael Pavelka's stark stage design, with its Perspex sheeting, metal frames, hospital screens and torture implements provides a chilling backdrop against which the tragedy unfolds, the atmosphere heightened by the lighting and the frequent bursts of choral singing from the masked chorus of bat-wielding henchmen.
Yet amidst scenes that would impress a fan of horror, there is a huge amount to make you laugh. The cast skilfully bring out the wit in Shakespeare's dialogue, whilst each progressive murder becomes as hilarious as it is shocking (watch out for a show-stopper before the interval!). Most of the cast effortlessly move between several roles, with Tony Bell's commanding Queen Margaret and Richard Clothier's charismatic, unhinged Richard the standout performances.
Whilst the creative blend of horror, tragedy, humour and choral music makes for an interpretation of Richard III that is sure to leave an impression, it did take a while for the audience at Sheffield's Lyceum to feel comfortable laughing at the blackest moments. By the time of the interval, though, we were all caught up in the wonderful, horrible spectacle, and the play culminated in four curtain calls.