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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Donmar Warehouse


  Daniel Monks and Ruth Madeley/ Ph: Marc Brenner

Has any playwright in history suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous adaptation more than William Shakespeare? You’d be hard-pressed to find any of the Bard’s plays presented today without major surgery or reconstruction. This may not be as you like it, but whatever your views, it looks like it’s here to stay.
The latest dismantling of a well-established Shakespearean war-horse is Mike Lew’s reworking of Richard III, which he has saucily renamed Teenage Dick. Though far from perfect, it's a concept that, in the main, has its moments.
Lew updates the play to the present and sets it in the gym of an American high school called Roseland. Shakespeare’s demonic, anti-hero is reinvented as Richard Gloucester (Daniel Monks), a bitter, twisted (literally), unpopular 17-year-old suffering from hemiplegia and whose only friend is Barbara “Buck” Buckingham (Ruth Madeley) a spina bifida sufferer confined to a wheelchair.
Richard’s nemesis is a dim-witted “rocks for brains” quarterback called Eddie Ivy (Callum Adams), who is popular, good looking, built like a brick wall and has no shortage of girlfriends. Eddie also has hopes of becoming the next senior class president. But, against all the odds, so does ruthless Richard, who, parodying the Bard’s language, concedes, “I am not one who is shaped for sports.”
Motivated by revenge and an ongoing hatred of the ever-taunting Eddie, Richard determines to have a crack at the presidency himself.
His first calculating move is to attempt the impossible: seduce Eddie’s ex-girlfriend Anne Margaret (Siena Kelly), the campus hottie who aspires to become a professional dancer. He knows if he can somehow woo Anne, persuade her to teach him to dance, then get her to accompany him to the forthcoming school prom, the presidency could be his.
There is no question that the concept is a workable one, and it’s fun to see the degrees to which Lew meanders from the original plot or parodies Shakespeare. (“Now that the winter formal gives way to glorious spring...” is the play’s opening line, and later, “My kingdom for some horsepower.”)
But as Richard’s search for both power and love click into gear and raise questions about the nature of both, how to cope with them and the problems that lie strewn across the path of self-fulfillment, the play, despite solid, well-paced direction by Michael Longhurst, is occasionally long-winded and preachy.
Its very best moments are between our eponymous anti-hero and Anne. The scenes in which we see her teaching him to dance prior to wowing everyone at the school prom could have come straight out of TV’s Strictly Come Dancing if the cheering first-night audience at the Donmar were anything to go by. Also, some of the play’s content as well as its social media projections (by video designer Andrzej Goulding, with sets by Chloe Lamford) loudly echo Dear Evan Hansen.
There is no question, though, that the most notable, impressive and memorable aspect of this flawed but stimulating evening is Australian actor Monks, who himself has hemiplegia. He is absolutely mesmeric and gives an exquisitely calibrated performance that’s humorous, heart-rending, angry but never mawkish or self-pitying. It’s quite simply a tour de force. I can’t wait to see what he’ll make of Shakespeare’s older Richard when he decides the time is right to play him.
The rest of the cast, notably Kelly as the lithe and lissome Anne Margaret, Adams as Eddie Ivy and Madeley (who in life uses a wheelchair) do well in less complex supporting roles.
No masterpiece, but worth catching.


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