Teenage Dick (Donmar Warehouse)

Shakespeare is probably the dramatist most adapted or used for inspiration on both stage and screen. As & Juliet takes flight from Romeo and Juliet just a few streets away in the West End, the Donmar is staging Mike Lew’s clever and original take on Richard III.

We’re in an American high school where football rules supreme and student presidential elections are in planning. Eddie Ivy (Callum Adams) is the current incumbent, an arrogant and flashy pustule of popularity. Richard (Daniel Monks), part-paralysed from birth, seeks to bring him down after years of being bullied and insulted.

Using occasional bursts of archaic language and addresses to the audience indicated by a change of lighting, Richard starts to manipulate his way into standing – but as with the original play, things start to take a much darker turn and someone is going to get hurt.

Publicity image for Teenage Dick
Publicity image for Teenage Dick

With a mix of actors with disabilities (Monks and Ruth Madeley, playing “Buck”) and able-bodied actors, this play has much for us to consider about perceptions of and attitudes to physical disability.

At times we are pulled up short by the reality of such conditions, at others differences melt away, notably in a pivotal dance sequence. There is also no euphemism in descriptive language, which is both refreshing and uncomfortable.

As this is set in the modern day, social media is king – an election debate is broadcast in real time on a video sharing platform, and Anne Margaret films the shocking speech she uses to briefly hijack “Richard’s show”. Twitter takes the place of court misinformation and gossip.

Daniel Monks as Richard in Teenage Dick
Daniel Monks as Richard in Teenage Dick

Teenage Dick is an exceptionally good modern take on the Bard, with stand-out performances from Monks, Madeley, Siena Kelly as Anne.

If a couple of things don’t quite gel – the use of “the Tower” by teacher Elizabeth York (Susan Wokoma) and the character of Clarissa (Alice Hewkin) – they still retain interest for those familiar with the original play.

Michael Longhurst directs, set design is by Chloe Lamford (using a variety of props including mirrors and streamers to good effect).

Teenage Dick continues at the Donmar until 1 February. I would recommend it for both lovers of the Bard and those interested in challenging drama.

Photo credits Marc Brenner.

LouReviews purchased a ticket to see Teenage Dick.