DruidShakespeare: Richard III

What’s it like to hear Shakespeare performed with an Irish accent?

By Andrew Andrews

Richard (Aaron Monaghan) taunts Edward (John Olohan) as Hastings (Garrett Lombard) and Elizabeth (Jane Brennan) offer support in DruidShakespeare: Richard III, part of the Lincoln Center White Lights Festival at Gerald W Lynch Theatre. Original photo by Robbie Jack.

Shakespeare’s Richard III tells of the rise and fall of that King of England.

A gruesome, generally-disliked man stricken since birth with a back deformity, Richard nonetheless manages to manipulate those around him to seek his favor and destroy his adversaries.

With Richard’s oldest brother, King Edward, about to die of illness, Richard orders the assassination of his other brother, Clarence, and both of Edward’s sons, clearing the way for Richard to usurp the throne.

Over the past forty years, Druid Theatre has risen as one of Ireland’s major performing companies, touring the country as well as the English-speaking world. Richard III continues Druid’s tradition of covering Shakespeare’s kings that started with their epic production of The Henriad.

Typically in America, performers of Shakespeare feign British accents, even though American English sounds more like The Bard’s than what’s spoken across the pond today. Druid’s performance, however, is decidedly Irish, so it’s quite novel to hear the verse in brogue.

The thirteen-member cast could no doubt recite all three hours of this story in their sleep with utter perfection, having performed this piece for well over a year since it’s debut at their home in Galway in September of last year.

I’m usually very critical when more than one of the lesser roles are performed by the same actor, but in this case, the costumes for the most part were different enough to sufficiently distinguish the characters.

Although the sound was a bit harsh at times, other technical aspects of the performance were as outstanding as the acting: in addition to the wonderfully moody lighting, a brilliant rain effect provided an exquisite atmosphere not just once, but on two occasions.

A lot of companies these days try to breathe new life into Shakespeare’s works by casting them in a different era—most commonly, the present day. With this production, Druid has taken a stab at the idea by designing a brutalist stage resembling concrete, with steel bars and industrial fans that shout anachronism from the majority of costumes and fidelity to the script.

In addition, Catesby’s nineteenth century bowler hat and sleeve garters—as well as his use of an electrical appliance for dastardly deeds—has been received positively by other reviewers; however I, for one, see this confusing inconsistency as a sign that the director couldn’t make up her mind about the setting for the production, and for me, the incongruity reduces the pleasure of an otherwise-perfect performance by one full star.

Shakespeare’s Richard III may not be historically accurate, but the craftsmanship of Richard’s treachery and the sublime darkness of The Bard’s comedy—which at times in this script borders on absurdity—helps to solidify his position as history’s most famous playwright.

Despite its confusing setting, Druid’s production delivers all of the master’s perfection for a thoroughly entertaining event.


Andrew Andrews attended DruidShakespeare: Richard III at Gerald W Lynch Theater in Manhattan on Saturday, November 9, 2019 @ 7:00pm to write this review.