Review: A rocking, rollicking ‘Richard III’ kicks off Griffith Park Shakespeare festival


DNA testing from the remains of Richard III — the 15th century king of England, amazingly unearthed from under a Leicester parking lot in 2012 — suggest illegitimacy along the Plantagenet line that has raised questions about the royal succession.

That's just the kind of scandal that Richard III, that most richly evil figure in Shakespeare's historical canon, would have hastened to exploit. Indeed, in Shakespeare's play, Richard III uses charges of bastardy to wipe out his rivals for the throne.

David Melville in the title role of Independent Shakespeare Co.'s "Richard III." (Mike Ditz)

The Independent Shakespeare Co.’s production of “Richard III” is the opening offering in its popular annual Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival. Company co-founder David Melville has the title role — and what a gleeful, gloating, perfectly despicable Richard he is, a self-proclaimed villain whose wheedling, abject manner masks bloodthirsty purpose that ultimately dismays even his most ruthlessly ambitious allies.

In a bold staging enlivened by live rock music, Melissa Chalsma, the company’s co-founder and artistic director, pitches her interpretation slightly over the top — but deliciously so, considering that subtlety would be largely lost past the first few rows of spectators in this venue. Loosely based on Colley Cibber’s pared-down 1699 adaptation, the production clips along at a rollicking pace thanks to an able cast with no weak links. Of particular note is Kalean Ung's Margaret, a whirling, witchy presence whose deadly curses against the usurping Richard presage his fate.

Of course, “Richard” is part of Shakespeare’s multiplay cycle that also treats the deposition and death of Richard II (memorably played by Melville in the company’s 2007 production), a regicide that sparked the War of the Roses, the conflict that ended with Richard III’s death on Bosworth Field. In a mesmerizing and surprisingly comical turn, Melville gleans every ounce of nefarious gusto from Richard, eliciting hoots and hisses from an appreciative audience.


“Richard III,” The Old Zoo at Griffith Park. 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays. Ends July 24. Free. Running time: 3 hours.

Follow The Times’ arts team @culturemonster.