The intriguingly titled Every Egg A Bird Theatre Company make their Greater Manchester Fringe debut with Car Park King, a comical reimagining of the life of Richard III.
Written by company founder—and one third of the cast—Jessica McDonagh, the play follows Richard from least favourite child of a disturbing Eleanor of Aquitaine to his horseless doom on Bosworth Field.
Car Park King takes place under the railway arches of 53two, a venue with an appropriately underground feel. The grey and yellow backdrop features shields painted with the letters NCP and windows that open up for offstage appearances from the likes of Lord Stanley, on a plastic cup ‘phone to Henry Tudor, or Richard’s errant horse, indifferent as the monarch lies dying.
Richard (James Beglin) is portrayed throughout as an innocent bystander in his own life, and spends the entire play desperately trying to undo the inadvertent consequences of his actions. He chloroforms Edward Jr so he can be put safely in the Tower; he is tricked into signing a petition to make himself king, with the crown on his head for safekeeping.
With Beglin onstage throughout as the protagonist, it’s left to McDonagh and co-star Kris W Laudrum to conjure up the remaining cast of characters and cycle through them at an impressive pace. There’s the shrieking, lisping witch who curses Richard; the four-foot-high Duke of Buckingham; the macho Edward IV—it’s a farcical array of colourful accents and extreme physicality.
With historical events and characters whipped through at such a pace, it does help to have prior knowledge of Shakespeare’s version of the story—or at least a good grasp of the War of the Roses. Yet in spite of this, the play does feel slightly overlong. There’s a tendency to cram jokes into every possible moment and stretch them as far as possible, which adds to the running time.
There’s a touch of Monty Python daftness about everything too—particularly in the way that the cast create the illusion of characters riding across the stage, astride hobby horses with dangling legs made from stuffed tights, or in the parody slanging match between Richard and Henry Tudor on the battlefield. One of my favourite visual gags was Richard’s unveiling of his new coat of arms—a short cape with a plastic hand dangling from a sleeve at the front.
Yes, Car Park King is silly (and occasionally crude) but it’s a lot of fun to watch. It’s like Horrible Histories for adults and, if Shakespeare had envisaged Richard III as comedy material, I’m sure he would have approved.