A Fresh New Staging of Richard III
Reviewed by Vicki Stokes
Richard III was presented in Stratford when the Festival first opened in 1953. The title role was performed by the great British actor, Sir Alec Guinness. Now, 69 seasons after Tom Patterson founded the Stratford Festival, it is fitting for one of its veterans, Colm Feore, to reprise the role at the beautiful new theatre that bears Patterson’s name.
The character of Richard III, as written by William Shakespeare, is a reminder that the tactics of the ruthless and ambitious never change. By twisting the truth, making empty promises, expecting absolute loyalty without criticism, using flattery, lacking empathy, and having false modesty, one can land a position of extreme power, whether or not there is competency in that position. There is never any doubt that such a person will leave behind a trail of enemies. And with Richard, between his self-loathing and superstitious nature, we know the crown cannot remain on his head for long.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester, brother to King Edward, decides that he is not worthy of love and declares his role is that of villain. His deceitful actions lead to the death of not only his brother Clarence, but that of the king, whose frail health cannot take the loss. Richard gains the hand of Lady Ann through his cunning and manipulating words, despite having murdered her husband. He claims that the sons of King Edward IV are not legitimate heirs to the throne. Richard continues to manipulate his way to the crown, executing Hastings for not supporting him, and exploiting Buckingham with no intention of fulfilling his promises to him. The threat of his young nephews as heirs to the throne remains, thus Richard conspires to have them murdered in the Tower of London. He eliminates his wife in a failed attempt to secure the support of the previous Queen by asking for the hand of her daughter (his niece). It is only with the invasion of Richmond (later King Henry VII) that Richard sees his whole plan crumble beneath him.
The cumulative years of training and experience in this cast are tremendous. There is no room to mention everyone but here are a few observations:
Colm Feore is a refreshing Richard, a conniving ‘crookback’ villain we love to hate. He dashes around deftly despite his twisted leg and speaks nimbly, without melodrama.
André Sills makes a memorable Buckingham, who assists Richard all the way to the crown for his gain but at his peril. Ben Carson is an excellent Hastings, confident yet naïve to the ruthless ways of Richard.
The female characters garner much interest and applause. Seana McKenna takes the character of Queen Margaret to a more important level, making a powerless character seem powerful in her predictions. Diana Leblanc as Duchess of York, Lucy Peacock as Queen Elizabeth, and Jessica B. Hill as Lady Anne are wonderful as women of royalty with little say and even less power over their lives. They make the most of these important roles. And it is an evil lady, Jane Tyrell, played by Hilary McCormack, who delivers the memorable lines concerning the alabaster innocent arms and lips as four red roses on a stalk.
The costumes are traditional and flattering. Each costume is unique, distinguishing the major characters well. Richard’s costume is “the tough-guy” dark leather, yet conveys his scoliosis. His royal mantle is wonderfully over-the-top.
This production cleverly incorporates the 2012 discovery of the real King Richard’s remains. The height of the battle scene is also quite ingenious, covered up to allow only the shadows of the slaughter. When throats are realistically slit in plain view, audible gasps can be heard.
Sound is used effectively at times, especially during the battle scene. At other times, especially in the beginning, anyone with sound sensitivity might find some of the screeching noises a little painful. As there is already an audience alert for startling sounds, people with sensitive ears just need to be a little cautious.
It is time well spent to see this fresh take on Richard III at the new Tom Patterson Theatre, truly a Stratford-Upon-Avon, with a lovely view of Lake Victoria, part of the Avon River. If you haven’t gone for a tour of the theatre, make sure you have a look around.
Richard III continues in repertory until October 30 at Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival by calling 1-800-567-1600 or online at www.stratfordfestival.ca
Photo: Colm Feore (centre) as Richard III with members of the company in Richard III. Photo by David Hou
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
Performed by Colm Feore, Sean Arbuckle, Michael Blake, Ben Carlson, et al.
Produced by Stratford Festival
Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford
May 10 to October 30, 2022
Reviewed by Vicki Stokes