BBC Radio 3, 14 April 2013
Marc Beeby's 2004 production contained an intriguing central performance by Douglas
Henshall as Gloucester. He was neither a scheming villain communicating his enjoyment to listeners (in the Olivier mould),
nor a insect-like personality, the embodiment of evil (recalling Antony Sher). Rather he came across as someone willing
to make friends with anyone if it suited his purposes. First Clarence (Michael Maloney) fell under his spell; then Buckingham
(Ben Miles); both of them soon discovered to their cost what a mistake they had made by trusting him. Through this pretence
of affability Gloucester came across as an extremely dangerous character whose true motives were concealed from everyone
- except the listeners. Radio proved ideal medium, as he could whisper his lines in asides without anyone else overhearing
rise to power was set against a world in turmoil, wherein social order had collapsed. Director Beeby suggested this
through sound-effects; in several sequences taking place at court we heard wild dogs barking or the cawing of crows in
the background. Even those closest to power could no longer expect any protection from evil. On other occasions
Beeby introduced echo-effects, transforming Shakespeare's lines into prophecies of doom. In Clarence's bedroom-scene
speeches (just before he met his untimely death in a vat of malmsey) the echoes emphasized his growing awareness
of his fate. In a dog-eat-dog world, no one was safe any more.
This framework for the production gave new meaning to the curses placed on Gloucester by the
women, especially Queen Margaret (Barbara Jefford), who at one point whispered her lines direct to listeners out of everyone
else's earshot. It seemed as if they possessed an unearthly power to transform the universe through words alone without
seeking divine assistance.
David Pickvance's music - a jarring combination of synthesized effects and instrumentals - helped reinforce
the notion of a world cursed by Gloucester's deeds. We heard snatches of it just before a murder was about
to happen. At the end of the play, the music accompanied the battle-sequences, transforming them into ritualized dances.
In a world dominated by evil, such conflicts were unavoidable.
The effects of this anarchy on ordinary people were vividly illustrated in a short sequence
involving three citizens (Rachel Atkins, Cherie Taylor-Battiste, and Frances Jeater). One looked back nostalgically
to the past, when King Edward "Had virtuous uncles to protect his grace," while another feared the worst in "This sickly
land," in which no one was safe, not even Gloucester whose future seemed "full of danger." This reference underlined
the success of Gloucester's campaign to seize the throne: while eliminating his rivals one by one, he maintained his
public image of being a reliable, trustworthy person appealing to the popular consciousness.
In the end Gloucester ran out of options; the forces ranged against him were just too great.
Just before the Battle of Bosworth - where he met his untimely end - he delivered a final soliloquy wherein his aggressive
fašade collapsed. He whined like a little boy looking for - but not receiving - any sympathy from his parents for what
he had done. When none came, he resolved to fight on, even though he understood the hopelessness of his task.
The ending, when it came, seemed
rather peremptory. Richmond (Geoffrey Streatfeild) - vocally much more light-voiced than Gloucester - assumed power
and announced that social order had been restored. However the memory of Gloucester's reign lived on in the mind: whatever
evil he might have committed, he had carried it out with style and panache. This is what rendered him so devilishly
attractive as well as dangerous.