There may have been a more eloquent, richly dramatic and engrossing production of Shakespeare's study of a corrupt royal demagogue in the last 30years, but if so I must have missed it.
Steven Berkoff in this, his first visit to Ludlow (and hopefully not his last) has found remarkable, closeted atmosphere in the work which frequently sets your heart beating faster than usual, creating a sense of excitement in a way I have not known here since Edward Woodward limped into the Ludlow arena many years ago as Richard of Gloucester.
Timothy Walker is fine as Richard, transposed by Mr Berkoff into a latter-day Oscar Wilde heading up a mannered, feckless, tittering, hedonistic 19th century court of silk-hatted, frock-coated, freeloaders. Mr Berkoff, you feel, has little patience with royals, and in that respect perhaps he speaks for many of us.
In a marvellously paranoid performance Timothy Walker attempts to convince those around him that the corrupt justice he dispenses with a kind of feeble insouciance is underpinned by divine approval. God has put him where he is - contravene his royal commands and you oppose God himself.
With each convolution of his twisted, inevitably distorted plans for England, a realm he uses as a kind of piggy-bank, you sense disaster looming. Finally, with some beautiful lighting and music, we are left with the king's pallid face in captivity, patently dramatising his imminent demise.
But see this remarkable production for Mr Berkoff's concept of total theatre. There are superb moments from Julia Tarnocky's Queen Isabel, miming (in a way which suggests medieval theatre) the tears of sadness of her predicament in the indifferent English court.
Then there is the astonishing portrayal of a double time structure, when Richard, lamenting his fate in prison is surrounded by a mocking male society moving in slow motion. Choreographically and conceptually, Mr Berkoff has given us the kind of glorious theatre we frequently long for at the RSC main house in Stratford, but so rarely find these days.
Actors always respond to inspired direction in my experience. There is a very fine performance from Joseph Millson as a striking Henry Bolingbroke (so similar in attitude to the very cousin he is deposing).
Again, we must thank Nick Waring ( Mowbray) Paul McCleary (Duke of York) and especially Michael Cronin (John of Gaunt) whose "sceptred isle" speech is so powerful one recoils from his fury at the king. Rarely have Ludlow's old stones seen work of this standard.
Not to be missed.
Until July 10.