Stage review: Richard III

Shanaya Rafaat (L) as the Duke of Buckingham and Dyfan Dwyfor as Richard III. (Ant Robling).
Shanaya Rafaat (L) as the Duke of Buckingham and Dyfan Dwyfor as Richard III. (Ant Robling).
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Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, York

By Chris Bond

4/5

Shakespeare’s Richard III is a twisted psychological thriller that has stood the test of time. So there was little surprise when it was chosen as one of the four plays – along with Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream – to be performed this summer at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York.

Richard III comes with high expectations. Playing the hunchback king is up there with Hamlet, Macbeth and Lear as one of those roles that any actor worth his salt wants to get their teeth stuck into. And plenty have so down the years – Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Anthony Sher and Sir Kenneth Branagh to name just three. Part of the allure is the scope the role offers – you have to be at once murderous yet charming, ruthless yet vulnerable. Director Lindsay Posner’s production is both modern and visceral (the opening scene will either leave you shaking your head in disbelief or smiling to yourself). The pace is frenetic. Perhaps too frenetic at times. It’s a solid cast, Alexandra Dowling (Lady Anne) and Julie Legrand (Margaret) are particularly noteworthy, but it’s a play that stands or falls on the title role performance. For all of Richard’s physical handicaps he was still a soldier king and Dyfan Dwyfor delivers a highwire act full of energetic malevolence that is, ultimately, a compelling one. Those hoping to see a more traditional ‘doublet and hose’ version may be put off, though I would urge them to set aside such preconceptions and come and see the play in this magnificent venue before it’s gone. To September 2.

Calendar Girls The Musical

Leeds grand theatre

By Yvette Huddleston

4/5

The remarkable story of the women of Rylstone and District Women’s Institute is one that just keeps giving.

The tale of this ordinary group of middle-aged Yorkshirewomen who, nearly 20 years ago, posed naked for a calendar in order to raise money for a sofa in their local hospital after the death from leukaemia of one of their husbands, has been a hit movie, a long-running, much-loved stage play and an acclaimed musical.

Tim Firth and Gary Barlow’s The Girls received its world premiere in Leeds in 2015 and went on to enjoy very well-received stints at the Lowry in Salford and in the West End. Now back, with a few tweaks and a title change, for a final tour, opening at the Grand Theatre, it is a truly heart-warming and joyous production.

At its core is the celebration of both women of a certain age and of female friendship. This is about facing loss and difficulty with hope and humour, and with the help of supportive friends who genuinely care. The songs reflect all those sentiments and are subtly incorporated into the pacy narrative, delivered by a top quality cast that includes Fern Britton, Rebecca Storm, Ruth Madoc, Anna-Jane Casey, Sara Crowe, Karen Dunbar and Denise Welsh. The younger generation are well represented by a trio of strong performances from Tyler Dobbs as Tommo, son of single mother Cora, Isabel Caswell as Jenny, the wayward daughter of uptight WI chair Marie (Britton) and Danny Howker as Danny, the son of Chris and steady husband Rod, Head Boy material but more than willing to be led astray by the feisty Jenny.

The stand-out songs, which are witty and heart-breaking in equal measure, are the soaring opening anthem Yorkshire, the defiant What Age Expects, the very moving Scarborough which anticipates the loneliness of grief and the uplifting Dare which urges us all to take a risk and, like the Girls themselves, do something extraordinary.

To September 1.