“God save King Richard!” David Hywel Baynes is a compelling, multi-layered villain in Iris Theatre’s outdoor Richard III in London’s Covent Garden

When I arrive in St Paul’s courtyard my heart sinks. The few benches are soaked through from a recent downpour, and the cut-up pallets that serve for further seating are worse. At this point it’s going to take a miracle to warm me up to this production.
As it turns out, a cup of tea and a cheerful cry of “Come sit, sit! I’ve got paper towels!” serve just as well.
Daniel Winder’s choice to ground Richard III in the tetralogy by staging the final scene of Henry VI, Part 3 works surprisingly well. It provides necessary context, but also delays the iconic “Now is the winter of our discontent” speech and thus prevents the audience from settling in to an old favourite too comfortably – Iris keeps you on your toes from the get go.

Richard III DHB
The audience becomes a part of the company as we’re ushered from one well-designed space to the next – we are courtiers, soldiers, conspirators, witnesses. This production of Richard III, a play that always toys with an audience’s conscience, amplifies our guilty complicity by having us follow Richard from place to place like sheep. We march to Bosworth Field on our own two feet, we follow Richard and Richmond into battle, and we’re not entirely sure whose side we’re on.

Richard III king and queens
The production is polished, the company is strong, and the location is perfectly suited. Characters wave towards the church’s grand doors as they speak of the tower and we believe them entirely. A cry from the marketplace could be a rowdy solider in a neighbouring tent.
But David Hywel Baynes’s Richard overshadows it all. He is mercurial, cunning, charming, repellent – and all of these in a breath. He plays the anti-hero with such conviction that when the church rings with the cry “God save King Richard!” you’re torn between joining in and running to join the revolt.

richard III mad
In conversation after the show Baynes cites Mark Rylance as an influence. Lauding Rylance’s ‘Globe technique’, he humbly hopes he’s adopted some of the elder actor’s techniques for engaging an outdoor theatre audience. An even greater influence though is Dan, the director. “He’s always pushing me further,” Baynes says, smiling fondly, “Making me the best I can be.”

Richard III and queen
The genuine camaraderie in the company shows in their refined production, so I believe it when everyone I talk to, Baynes and Joel Mellinger (Hastings) in particular, tells me the company’s creativity is aided by its closeness.
“This is my first time with Iris,” says Joel, “but they’re like a family.” Entirely separately David, an old hand with Iris, says “I never met Joel before this production, but he’s like a brother.”

Richard III edward IV and queen
Yes, there was drizzle, yes, the sound effects sometimes jarringly miss their cue, and yes, your fellow audience member’s “Oh, I’m so terribly sorry!” as they step on your foot yanks you from your happy courtier fantasy. But despite all that, this is immersive Shakespeare at its very best – and the freshest Richard I’ve seen in years.

Richard III sword queen
Iris Theatre’s Richard III runs until 25 July. Book your tickets here.

Richard III star David Hywel Baynes leads Iris Theatre Masterclass in London

David Hywel Baynes as Richard III.

David Hywel Baynes as Richard III.

Known for its dynamic, whole body approach to classical texts, Iris Theatre is launching a season of acting masterclasses based at its home, St Paul’s Church in London’s Covent Garden. Each class will focus on a particular part of theatre and performance with the emphasis on practical exploration rather than academic analysis.

Open to actors of all backgrounds, the masterclasses aim to give every participant a deeper understanding and a greater degree of ownership of verse drama. The classes promise a unique opportunity for participants to increase confidence and broaden the range of their classical repertoire.

Masterclass: Richard III – Vengeance & Blood

Sunday 8 June, 5.30pm to 8.30pm

This special one-off masterclass will be co-led by Iris Theatre’s Artistic Director Daniel Winder and actor David Hywel Baynes, who plays the title role in this summer’s production of Richard III. In this intensive masterclass David and Daniel will work through the themes and underlying ideas of the play, illuminating its greatest moments and most signifcant icongraphy.

Daniel will also help to place the play within the wider context of the history cycle, while David will reveal his personal approach to the challenge of playing one of Shakespeare’s most physically demanding parts.

“This Masterclass is happening right in the middle of the rehearsal period of our summer production,” says an Iris Theatre spokesperson, “so join us for the chance to gain a unique insight into the practical challenges of staging Shakespeare.”

For more information, and to book tickets, go here.