RICHARD III: Propeller

Rating ★★★★★

SOUND: David Gregory


  • Director: Edward Hall
  • Design: Michael Pavelka
  • Lighting design: Ben Ormerod
  • Director Edward Hall says the main lesson he learned from his father was to put absolute trust in actors.

  • With Richard Clothier playing the title role, Hall’s all-male version of Richard III for his Propeller Theatre Company could hardly fail and the innate verse-speaking abilities of the principals must have freed their director to lavish attention on technical details and an overall theme.

  • The backdrop is a medical environment in which fascist goons are portrayed as hospital orderlies, a highpoint being their infiltration of the stalls and circle at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford.

The many medical references, such as opium injections, amputations and straitjackets prompt comparisons with the wider body politic. The play was performed only days after the UK had witnessed a political tinderbox on Remembrance Sunday when Muslim fundamentalists burnt poppies some 50 yards away from British Nationalist Party activists.

Despite the play’s vaguely Victorian setting I was struck by the topicality of the factional extremism and warped patriotism on view as Richard and his assassins cut through those who stand between him and succession. Hall believes that Shakespeare is primarily about metaphor, and the world inhabited by his central character resembles a ghastly fusion between Oswald Mosley and Nick Griffin.

Propeller prides itself on creating all its music and sound effects in view of the audience. There is nothing mannered or Brechtian about this; it is rather an insistence on establishing a credible background that can absorb the odd anachronism and lapse in taste such as the lobotomy performed on Hastings with a chainsaw. The music proved a sustained joy and featured close harmony work in folk songs, hymns and madrigals, all characterised by an integrity that contrasts with more modish single-sex productions of the play, notably Kathryn Hunter’s all-female version at the Globe.

It is a huge task for men in Victorian crepe gowns to be credible as grieving women when the performers make no attempt to look feminine or even androgynous. However, Dominic Tighe manages to render Elizabeth’s grief terrifying as she is confronted with the severed heads of the princes in a tank of formaldehyde.

Earlier, the princes have been represented with outstanding puppetry by Sam Swainsbury and Richard Frame who also excel as Pinteresque hit men. Only the murder of Clarence proved slow, a laboured initial onslaught with an electric drill making me long for the appearance of the vat of Malmsey.

At times the visceral horror, the conflation of wine with blood and the amalgam of cultural references made me think I was sharing Clarence’s dream, though this quality of reverie is no doubt what Edward Hall has strived for.




Propeller is an all-male Shakespeare company showing influences from mask work, animation and film. Research and outreach activities have included a two-day symposium on Edward III.