But Michael Lew’s transposition of Richard III to an American high school is made all the more diverting and darkly comic because of a blow away central performance by Australian actor Daniel Monks. Disabled himself, Monks plays Richard Gloucester, the teen with hemiplegia, who after years of being treated either as invisible or a creepy loser decides to stand for class president against popular football jock, Eddie (Callum Adams).
Like Shakespeare’s original, Richard intends to win by fair means or foul, and he shares his dastardly plotting directly with the audience with a gleeful nastiness. The trick is that Richard, caught between a desire to be loved but knowing it is safer to be feared, is a character who in Monks’ hands wins your sympathy and makes you laugh even as he appals. At the start you want to hug him, but as the casualties mount you know the best course of action would be to run and hide from him. Even his language, borrowed from Shakespeare, is a kind of verbal terrorism.
Alice Hewkin as Clarissa and Daniel Monks as Richard. Photos by Marc Brenner.
What’s fascinating lies in the neatness of the transposition that in Chloe Lamford’s design turns the Donmar into a high school sports hall that comes complete with an exhilarating Saturday Night Fever type style school bop with choreography by Claira Vaughn. Anne becomes Eddie’s former love and would be dancer Anne Margaret (Siena Kelly) and Buckingham is Buck (Ruth Madeley), the young wheelchair user with whom Richard has an uneasy alliance. But the play’s cleverness is also in the way that it rescues the original from hundreds of years of performance history and the tight grasp of actors (think Olivier and Antony Sher) who have harnessed disability as a means of showing evil.
I’d love to see Monks play Shakespeare’s character, but this is no second best in an evening that certainly isn’t perfect—most of the other characters are unwritten; the ending is oddly underwhelming—but which powers along like a pimped up motorised wheelchair. “My kingdom for some horsepower,” hollers Richard as the play reaches its climax, a man in full throttle whose experience has taught him it is not the meek who will inherit the keys to the kingdom but those who embrace wickedness and seize power. Enjoy the ride.
Teenage Dick runs at the Donmar until Sat 1 Feb.