Theatre / “The 39 Steps”, Adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan; directed by Jarrad West. At Theatre 3 to July 1. Reviewed by LEN POWER
THERE is no exit for both murderers and murdered alike from this existentialist almost absurdist production of Shakespeare’s “Richard 3” and directed by Peter Evans.
The stage is itself an arena for the acts perpetrated by historical and pseudo-historical agents of power and supreme egos. It is more than analogous to contemporary politics; it is the politics. Evans’ production takes a huge risk in containing the players in a room that is at once sophisticated while being a prison in which only Richard sees the confinement and impossibility of escape.
It is a small world where players imagine they are playing within different realities; only to discover the hellish reality of their own confinement when it is too late.
This provides a most imaginative take on the play by weaving diverse threads of theatricality into a traditional story of power and ascendency.
Kate Mulvany’s Richard is the only character to break the fourth wall between the stage and the audience. However, each of the other characters have created walls around themselves while actually being on the stage; each is mostly unaware of whose story is actually being told. Evans comments on this in the program note. This radical theatrical departure makes for some fascinating playing by Mulvany; giving her the freedom to invest Shakespeare’s villain with greater flexibility and hidden manipulative power.
In an age where so much of contemporary reality is forged through social media illusion and people are often caught within their own walls while privacy is virtually non-existent, this production forges new ground for exploring Shakespeare’s contribution for today’s audiences.
It is probably not fully fleshed out as a concept and it means the production itself becomes trapped by its own confinement.
The final scene with a sword fight becomes almost nonsensical as a result. Yet one must admire the boldness of approach exhibited by Bell Shakespeare and applaud its departure from its more signature devices used over its history.