After the opening ad-lib (whether real or planted - One Man, Two Guvnors has made me such a cynic about these things) the lines go back (for the most part) to Shakespeare's but the central performance remains pretty fresh. O'Neill, whose Richard has only the merest hint of the character's famous disabilities (a barely noticeable hump, a slight shuffle rather than a pronounced limp, a black glove on the withered hand) says his performance was partly inspired by South Park's Eric Cartman, an influence that's not just a funny soundbite for an interview but actually very apparent in his coronation scene: He preens and sneaks grins at the audience in his oversized new robes and crown like a child with a new toy he's not going to share. Then he flounces and strops as he uses his new power to turn on his most faithful ally, the Duke of Buckingham (Brian Ferguson.)
King John, so there's strong support from the likes of Siobhan Redmond as Queen Elizabeth, the character who apart from Richard himself goes through the biggest fall from grace; Pippa Nixon as Lady Anne, here actually seeming to genuinely fall for Richard's charm offensive at the start of the play; and John Stahl as Lord Hastings, one of the king's many victims and as such his decapitated head appears on stage at one point - I did wonder if the sacrifice of his mighty beard was to make it easier to make a cast of his face. Paola Dionisotti once again finds herself in an unconventional interpretation of a role: Her Queen Margaret is unusually fit and sprightly, a commando Margaret who stamps her feet to punctuate each part of her curse. It's an interestingly different way of portraying the character but I must admit I missed the eerie, mystical element she usually brings to the play.
Richard III by William Shakespeare is booking in repertory until the 15th of September at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Running time: 3 hours 10 minutes including interval.