OK, quick quiz. What do you know about Richard III? Hunchback. Walked with a limp. Killed the princes in the tower. Badly needed a horse. Buried under a car park in Leicester. That’s about it, I’d say. And it would appear to be mostly wrong, according to Philippa Gregory’s wonderful new play, Richard, My Richard

Gregory is a famous historical novelist with more than 20 titles to her credit, eight of which have been adapted for the screen by other people. This is her first play. On the evidence of this production at Shakespeare North in Prescot, she should write another one immediately.

Richard, My Richard. Credit: Patch Dolan.

In a fascinating programme note which dismantles Shakespeare’s Richard as a piece of Tudor propaganda, Gregory tells how, during a Channel 4 programme broadcast from Leicester after the interment of the King’s remains, she was challenged to write a play closer to the historical truth. So she did.

Gregory uses the conceit of a modern historian. In this role, Tom Kanji gives an extremely funny performance as an exuberant academic descending into an existential crisis who watches a revivified Richard rise from the grave to tell his real story. Richard is played by Kyle Rowe, who is extraordinary. His performance is riveting and he is every inch a King.

This is the story of a merry band of three sons of York (Richard, Edward and George), their women, their retainers and their descent into murder, fratricide and final extinction at the hands of Henry Tudor, whose mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, is present throughout and manages alone to survive the carnage. Think of Succession with swords.

Director Katie Posner has done a fine job of bringing this complex story alive and giving us clear lines of sight through the murk. The acting is terrific. On such a small stage you can see them breathing, there is no room for errors, and there were none.

Richard, My Richard. Credit: Patch Dolan.

This is that rare thing – a great night out. Intelligent, educational in the best way, and very entertaining. And a great piece to show off the merits of this new theatre, based on a Shakespearean theatre found in the basement of 10 Downing Street and built in Prescot, which is part of the estate of the 19th Earl of Derby whose predecessor, the 5th Earl, had a theatre in his grounds, kept a company of actors, and had Shakespeare’s men up to play.

Interesting historical coincidence: Richard’s retainers included the Stanleys, one of whom was the fourth husband of Margaret Beaufort, and whose treasonous shift to support Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth ended Richard’s claims, and his life. The Earls of Derby are direct descendants of the Stanleys.

You have until March 30 to see this marvellous piece, after which it moves to co-producer, the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds. After that, who knows? But if it doesn’t transfer to that London, I will eat my rather nice Borsalino fedora.

By Chris Wallis, Theatre Editor

Main photo: Kyle Rowe, Shakespeare North Playhouse. Credit Patch Dolan.

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Richard, My Richard is at Shakespeare North until March 30, 2024. For more information, click here