Richard III

Mark Kilmurry's Richard is a delightfully beguiling, witty rascal.
Richard III

Image supplied by Ensemble Theatre.

In the great tradition of Shakespearean actor-managers, Mark Kilmurry at Sydney’s Ensemble Theatre both directs and takes on the lead in this Richard III. His next tough decision was what to make of his classic, crippled villain here and now in this pleasant Sydney Harbour-side theatre in 2014?  

Kilmurry says his inspiration was recent cuts to arts funding and, by some considerable extension, a despotic world where theatre is actually banned – especially productions like this about the rise and fall of a tyranny.


The Ensemble’s companionable space is converted into a bricked cellar cluttered with costumes, props and old TVs and appliances of an earlier time. Glimpsed first through a security monitor, Kilmurry’s modest cast of six assemble with urgency and prepare to begin. Richard kicks off with the famous words about his winter of discontent, referring to the streets above as much as the tale about to unfold.

By political necessity (if not arts funding cuts!) this is poor theatre, with randomly collected costumes, much doubling of parts and all locations left to our imagination. It’s a pity then that Kilmurry restricted his Big Brother fantasy to the stage and didn’t enlist us too as the audience into this underground of illicit theatre-making.

Instead, we were served (passively) a sparse, inventive, occasionally clumsy, chamber-sized staging of a ripping good story. The director may have missed some nuance and dramatic punctuation in the staging, but Kilmurry the actor made up for it. 

His Richard is a delightfully beguiling, witty rascal. He’s fiendish, yes, but somehow so sincere in his realistic perspective. It’s a knock-kneed, knockabout Richard without any of the pompous cant of his well-bodied peers. Patrick Dickson, by contrast, captures well the ostensibly noble but crafty Buckingham.

The text is well edited to drive the story and thankfully retains the stunning moments of drama which Richard III offers to three actresses. Danielle Carter shines as Queen Elizabeth, mother of the ill-fated boy princes, and Toni Scanlan and Amy Mathews have moments as, respectively, Richard’s cursing mother and his confused wife.

Matt Edgerton leaps quickly and impressively through an array of other roles.

Sound designer Daryl Wallis interrupts the staging with some richly fearful noises from the fascist world above. No other set or costume designer is credited; this perhaps explains the only partial impact of Kilmurry’s conceit. Luckily, Shakespeare’s gripping storytelling – and his iconic villain – is still artfully served and it’s a good night at the theatre.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 stars

Richard III

Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast includes: Danielle Carter, Patrick Dickson, Matt Edgerton, Mark Kilmurry, Amy Mathews, Toni Scanlan

Ensemble Theatre, McDougall Street, Kirribilli
From June 24

Martin Portus

Monday 30 June, 2014

About the author

Martin Portus is a Sydney-based writer, critic and media strategist. He is a former ABC Radio National arts broadcaster and TV presenter.