I don’t even know where to begin…..
Well, I do. It began with complete and utter calm. For all my pre-show freaking out, shortly before the lights went out I achieved perfect nirvana - I’m not even exaggerating. This continued through the play and the intermission only for me to start shaking when the play ended.
Very briefly, I have to say that this was by far the best piece of theatre I’ve seen so far this year, and I say that as someone who loved the National Theatre’s King Lear with Simon Russell Beale, who’s considered a goddamned theatre legend. I’ve been saying this for a long time now, but Martin Freeman is one of the utmost best actors of this generation and I am simultaneously honoured and humbled to have been able to witness him on stage. He is captivating, terrifying, hilarious, utterly magnificent and so fucking nuanced that I’m running out of adjectives to describe just how fucking brilliant this man is. All of this is even more astounding considering that this is only his fourth stage production. As much as I love him in movies and on the telly, I would not be a least bit sorry to see him stick solely to stage acting henceforth.
The story is set in the 1970s, around the time when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, yet with original Shakespearean dialogue, providing a oftentimes jarring juxtaposition between the new and old. The staging and set design are brilliant. Here’s a
probably definitely illegal photo of the stage, which is now (16/07/14) edited to be unrecognisable because I was asked to remove it due to copyright infringement.
As you can You can’t really see anymore, but I had an amazing seat in third row, although, alas, outside the very narrow splash zone. I have to admit, when I first heard about the play being set in the ’70s, I was wary, but it works wonderfully.
The production is done in such a way that the audience is simultaneously presented with something hilarious yet horrifying. The scene, for example, in which [spoiler alert, unless you’ve read the book] Richard is murdering Lady Anne, is understandably dark and uncomfortable, made even more so by the elevator muzak playing in the background. There is a large amount of blood and several quite gruesome murder scenes, yet Martin manages to instil humour and wit in even the unlikeliest bits of dialogue.
While some of Martin’s mannerisms and tics are reminiscent of John Watson, he owns the role of Richard completely and makes his own. For the most part, I was so engrossed in the story that I wasn’t even thinking of him as Martin fucking Freeman on the stage, but simply as an actor performing brilliantly. It is staggering to watch him discuss infanticide and still have the audience laughing and then revert to the repugnant monster that Richard truly is.
Ultimately, this was a fantastic production with an amazing cast and perfect staging and, yes, one of the best actors alive today in the starring role. It absolutely deserved the standing ovation it received and I can only hope that the professional reviews are as enthralled by it as I am. I can’t fucking wait to go see it again.
Few sidenotes: the first row gets a lot of the action, as it is literally on stage level. The actors are rights in your face, along with the blood, and even sitting in third row, I totally made eye contact with Martin, albeit briefly. If you’re sitting the in on-stage seating, the actors face towards you just as much as towards the front of the stage in a very natural, unstilted way. And if you’re lucky enough to sit in the first row of the on-stage seating, right by the centre aisle, you will get to ogle Richard’s dead and bloodied body for several minutes until the play ends. Also, that beard is damn fine. Just sayin’. Unf.
I’m sure there’s so much more that I’m missing, but for all my calm composure at the beginning of the play, I was literally shaking as I was leaving the theatre. I’ll probably be posting various snippets as I remember them over the next few days.