A rabblerousing and riveting display of humour and talent, the Melbourne University Shakespeare Company’s adaptation of Richard III proved to be an enjoyable and in your face interpretation of the Shakespearean tragedy. Packaging together laughter, lust, and a solid amount of filth, Filthy Rick spilled the guts of its rowdy and turbulent characters to deliver a thoroughly engaging production.
The first point of success for Filthy Rick was its well-formed re-contextualisation into the modern day. Rachel Shrives, Declan Mulcahy, Sunday Sommerfeld, and Amy Spurgeon’s directorial and dramaturgical work was successful in generating a satisfyingly gritty modernisation of the production. Although tried and tested, original dialogue was interspersed with slang and re-interpreted in modern English in a way that never failed to bring about a smile or a laugh. The occasions of explosively delivered expletives and casually discussed plots for betrayal lent a great deal of comedic value to many scenes which could otherwise have been turgid and stagnant in the play’s reimagined context.
The thematic element of ‘the gut’: a festering AV presence that seemingly devoured each character as they were slain by Georgie Pender’s Richard and her machinations, gelled well with the overt and larger than life mode of the production. The purposive foregrounding of themes of greed, decadence, and lust effectively grounded the humorous nature of the production, serving to maintain a sense of impending tragedy in an otherwise jovial atmosphere. The talents of Brendan Mcdougall and Leo Palmer in lighting and sound design respectively ensured this success.
Acting in general was outstanding, with emotive and convincing physical and vocal expression. All involved helped to compound the production’s humour and dialogic merit and complexity. Lines were delivered with great clarity and tone, and comedic timing and body language were exceptional. Of particular note were Pender’s Richard, Vaterisio Tuikaba’s Lord Hastings, and Alice Wheaton’s Queen Elizabeth. Pender’s performance was powerful, funny, and full on, creating a vibrant King Richard with great comedic support from Tuikaba and Wheaton’s complex and confrontational Queen Elizabeth. James Lowther’s Queen Anne also provided the production with some of its most hilarious and appropriately vulgar moments, delivering a spate of laughs and grimaces.
Set design, by Leonie Leonida, and stage direction were perplexing but strangely effective. The production was delivered entirely from a sandpit littered with various bits of after-a-party detritus, and characters apparently ‘offstage’ could be seen sitting off to the side. The overall effect was one of transience and spontaneity. This appropriate trivialisation of the play’s subject matter lent an air of casual modernity to the typically august tragedy that was in keeping with the modern setting and delivery.
By curtain call Filthy Rick had lived up to its name in a multitude of hilarious and provocative ways, reinventing the austere form of Richard III into a new kind of theatrical monster. Filthy Rick turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable and eminently watchable adaptation, impressing and entertaining with every scene.
MUSC’s production of Filthy Rick runs from the 5th – 14th of October in the Guild Theatre.