Crookback“Shakespeare’s genius is that his villains tell us more about ourselves than we could ever possibly imagine.” A very bold, but poignant statement by Tim Welham that certainly holds a great deal of truth; we all yearn for love yet endeavour to obtain power and accomplishment.

Originally from Toronto in Canada, Welham has created, and mastered, a one-man adaptation of Richard III entitled Crookback, which tells Shakespeare’s play entirely from the king’s perspective. Incredibly intelligent, Welham performs his creation with ease and great ability, quickly becoming and switching between 13 different characters as he delivers the chilling tale.

The Etcetera Theatre, situated above the Oxford Arms pub in Camden Town, offers a suitably intimate venue, reminding us constantly of how close we are to such heinous acts and villainy. Candles are scattered about the stage and the walls are decorated with Paul Westbrook’s chalk sketches – a throne, a spider, as well as two lists of character’s names that are struck off one by one as they are murdered by our protagonist.

Welham’s strong and skilful characterisations and rapidly changing postures are startlingly smooth. Richard’s deformed body is hinted at, immediately indicated by an odd asymmetrical stance and inclined head, but is never exaggerated, and the audience are never alienated by a ridiculous caricature – we are always watching a human being. The arm brace, glove and sling which represent his crippled condition make simple tasks somewhat more difficult, such as putting on and taking off a ring, or taking the stopper out of a bottle, and the effect is almost that of pity for Richard’s unfortunate physicality rather than disgust or repulsion. Continually we are presented with more than just a “dog”, but instead are encouraged to sympathise, though never necessarily go as far as liking the murderous king.

Welham is adept in capturing this attraction immediately, his striking eyes holding eye contact a fraction too long so that is almost becomes joyously uncomfortable. His talent for holding an audience’s attention is undoubted, with the navigation of the edited text near perfection. Each character has a new posture, gait, accent and charm so that any initial confusion disappears quickly as the swift multi-role device becomes the norm.

Though the performance is a very difficult feat in that although it deals with near enough the entirety of the play, it is something of a character study. In the programme, Director Megan Watson discusses the exploration of the notion of villainy, as well as her own obsession with generating love for the monster. Of course Richard admits that he is a villain very early on, but we are nevertheless drawn to the calculating nature that emerges from his fascinating soliloquies. His open declaration of his allegiance to evil does not stop us, as his complexity and ambiguity intrigues us as much as it frightens us, perhaps to an extent it is a reflection of our own natures.

Crookback is playing at the Etcetera Theate 12-14 July and 16-21 July 2013. For more details see The Etcetera Theatre website.