by Lynn on August 24, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

Richard III

 In WithrowPark, north end, between the brick building and those two lovely trees. Written by William Shakespeare (who else, eh?). Directed by Diane D’Aquila. Designed by Evita Karasek. Lighting by Bryan Steele. Starring: Marc Bondy, Simon Bracken, Diane D’Aquila, Jacklyn Francis, Charlie Gould, Jesse Griffiths, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, Alex McCooeye, Andrew Joseph Richardson, David Ross.

Produced by Shakespeare in the Ruff. Plays in Withrow Park until September 1.

The gutsy, feisty theatre company Shakespeare in the Ruff is back for their second year of doing Shakespeare in the lovely Withrow Park. Last year they did a dandy production of the comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona. This year they tackle Richard III about the misshapen Richard who schemes and murders his way to the crown. Years of being vilified and discounted for his looks have made him twisted in mind as well as body. But that is not to say that Richard had a brain. He was a master schemer and manipulator. He knew how to be a good friend when it served his purposes. When it didn’t he got rid of ‘the good friend.’ And he had a kind of charm that was beguiling.

Director Diane D’Aquila and her dramaturge and assistant director Andrew Joseph Richardson have been focused and ruthless in their cutting of the play to a swift one hour and forty minutes without intermission. Lines and even characters are cut; names are changed; and lines are even borrowed from other Shakespeare plays—Shakespeare aficionados will have fun spotting what line comes from what play. The result is a play that goes like a bat out of hell without loosing the story, the sense of momentum of Richard’s rush to the throne and his equally swift downfall where he will give his kingdom if only he had a horse to aid him in battle.

Director Diane D’Aquila first directed the play at the National Theatre School in Montreal with then student, Alex McCooeye as Richard III. So when she was asked by Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, artistic director of Shakespeare in the Ruff, to direct Richard III in the park, her first and only choice for Richard was Alex McCooeye, now a bona fide actor.

McCooeye is tall, slim, boyish, dangerous and absolutely compelling. He has a firm hold of the text and its implications. His Richard changes his demeanour on a dime, depending on who he is trying to manipulate, charm, or sucker. His scenes with Elizabeth as he tries to convince her that he should marry her daughter are particularly fraught. Richard certainly has a worthy opponent in Elizabeth as they spar and ratchet up the stakes with each volley.  Elizabeth is played by Jacklyn Francis who is as intellectually nimble as Richard is. She is fearless when starring him down and of course repulsed when he says he wants to marry her daughter. In that scene alone we see Richard’s desperation and conviction. It’s terrific acting from McCooeye and Francis who shoot the lines back and forth as if it’s a game of life and death, and it is.

Just as varied and nuanced is Charlie Gould as Lady Anne (yes Charlie is a woman). Her conflicted desperation is obvious as Richard woes her as she is going to her husband’s funeral. Richard killed her husband.

As Buckingham, Mark Bondy is the ever watchful opportunist who knows how to curry favour with Richard. But when he is bested by Richard and not given the prize he was promised for his support, he is cut short and dismisses by the king. The sense of suddenly being out of favour is quite impressive. Diane D’Aquila does double duty as the director of the production but also the feisty Duchess. The Duchess is politically savvy but ultimately wary when dealing with Richard, Her years of doing Shakespeare at Stratford show with her finesse with the text and her depth of character.

As Richmond Brendan McMurtry-Howlett brings a shining youthfulness to Richmond who will ultimately defeat Richard III.

While the evening belongs to McCooeye and his splendid Richard III, it also belongs to director Diane D’Aquila. She has a focused, sharp eye for the spare details that will build suspense. Her sense of imagination is terrific. There is a quick rundown of the history that happened before our play begins, using blow-up photos of the characters involved, pinned to one of the two lovely trees of the playing area.

Establishing the two tented camps of Richard and Richmond is done by pinning large swaths of plastic to a fence in a fanned shape; voilá two tents. The audience of course does its bit to imagine it—the beauty of the bond between audience and player.

Weapons are not allowed in the park so you get no sense of firing guns in this production (it’s a modern dress). D’Aquila deals with this by having red laser beams focus on the chests of characters followed by an attendant pop, suggesting a gun with the laser beam has fired. When Richard lumbers on to the scene crying for a horse, several soldiers approach down one of the aisles between the audience holding a suggestion of guns, with several red laser beams circling his heart area. Richmond races up behind him, imaginary knife in hand, and plunges it in his back to kill him. Terrific.

This is a dandy, young, committed theatre company and I can hardly wait to see what they have in store for us next year.

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