Broadcast Text Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, and RICHARD III, The Pleasures of Violence

by Lynn on September 12, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were broadcast on Friday, September 12, 2014; CIUT FRIDAY MORNING 89.5 fm: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at TIFF; and RICHARD III, The Pleasures of Violence at the ZUKE Studio 1581 Dupont St. until September 28, 2014.

Good Friday morning. It’s theatre talk time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. Lynn we’re in the throes of The Toronto International Film Festival. Is there any theatre going on?

Actually I’m going to talk about a film of a theatre production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Julie Taymor. It played at TIFF earlier this week and I saw it—Daniel Garber (our film critic) graciously says I can review it.

And I saw a production of Richard III, also by Shakespeare, at the Zuke studio last night, produced by the Kadozuke Kollectif. This is a company celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

So Shakespeare’s a big deal in both film and theatre for my reviews.

Let’s start with the film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s always tricky to film a theatre production. How do you keep the theatricality of it is always a problem. How do they do here?

A bit of background first.The theatrical production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on which the film is based, played at a small theatre in Brooklyn last year. It was directed by Julie Taymor, a brilliant director—think The Lion King. She has also directed films of The Tempest and Titus Andronicus. And she’s directed opera. So she’s a triple threat director.

The idea to film A Midsummer Night’s Dream came very quickly. They got a crew. The money. And they did it over Christmas last year, and as Taymor said at the film’s showing, that meant no lawyers were involved.

There were four cameras placed so that every reaction was captured. And a camera person also followed the action with a hand held camera. The result is quite magical in that they captured the production.

Give us an example of that magic.

The thing about Julie Taymor as a director is that she has such a vivid imagination; an arresting sense of imagery and theatricality. In the beginning we see a bare stage, except for a bed.

A diminutive character in white face, bowler hat, walks out, climbs onto the bed and falls asleep on the bed. Is this character dreaming the whole play, mainly set in a wood, that concerns two couples who love and quarrel and pine for each other and wind up with the perfect mate? Don’t know.

Then the bed rises up—we can see the mechanism that raises it. Stage hands pull corners of a sheet from the bed. The sheet billows out to almost past the whole area of the stage, as the bed rises and disappears. The character in the bed breaks through the sheet and parachutes down to the stage. The character is Puck, an impish fairie that causes a lot of mischief. The beginning is jaw dropping and typical of Taymor’s imagination. The fairies in this wood are played by children. There is a pillow fight between the two couples.

Julie Taymor designed some of the masks and head gear of some characters—full of impish wit and humour and again imagination.

Does Taymor capture the essence of Shakespeare’s play?

I sure think she does. The play is full of fun, humour, darkness, anger, sexual innuendo, a warring fairie King and Queen who are vying for the ownership of a changeling boy. It’s not all sweetness and light, and Taymor captures the twists and turns, darkness and humour. The lighting and sound effects startle you into that odd world. Impressive acting in some cases grab you further.

Tell us about some of those performances.

As Oberon, the King of the Fairies, David Harewood is an imposing king. I believe he was in Homeland—never saw it—but I have seen him as Othello in London. He’s like a hunk of gleaming black marble. Dangerous, capable of anger and tenderness.

As Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, Tina Benko is delicate, graceful and formidable when coming up against her Oberon.

But for me the star is Kathryn Hunter as Puck. She is diminutive, almost androgynous looking, limber, agile, deep voiced—she smokes a lot—and totally compelling.

I’ve been lucky to have seen a lot of her work in London—most recently in The Valley of Astonishment this summer directed by Peter Brook. She flits around the stage. It’s like watching air made human. Her reactions to Oberon’s commands, especially when she makes a mistake, are hilarious. She is such a brilliant performer and the result is a spritely character that commands the whole show.

Is there a life for the film after TIFF?

There was a Q and A with Taymor after the film and she wondered to the audience if they felt that the film might have a future. The audience cheered. I rolled my eyes. You want to say, “Come on! You’re Julie Taymor. Your name fills the theatre.” She’s got high powered people behind this. Make it work and get the film distributed and shown again.

And now Richard III, The Pleasures of Violence. Is this a straightforward production of Shakespeare’s drama?

No. The press release gives me a clue that this is not Richard III as one is used to—deformed, limping, manipulative hungry for power, who kills his way to the crown.

From the press release:
“A visually seductive new interpretation of a Shakespearean classic, Richard III, The Pleasures of Violence marks Kadozüké Kollektif’s 10th Anniversary. Artistic Director Tatiana Jennings’ innovative re-imagining of William Shakespeare’s time-worn classic explores the passion, violence and disaster that erupted within the last family of the Plantagenet dynasty.

Coincidentally, not long after the company started working on the piece in 2012, the real Richard III’s body was dug up in a parking lot in Leicester, England.

New evidence discovered in the wake of his ‘excavation’ led them (the company) to look closer at the historical figure of Richard, his family and the real relationships between the people that inspired the characters in the Shakespeare’s play. In Kadozüké’s interpretation, Richard III is a family story. Skewed, incestuous and perverse.

Kadozuke subverts the overtly propagandistic content of the original text to reveal a more human picture of the characters.”

I so love press releases—they tell you what the company’s intension is and then you see how they don’t come close to accomplishing it in the actual production. With Richard III, The Pleasures of Violence, it’s a case of style and visuals over content and the content lost.

You’re going to have to explain yourself there.

The set is by Vladimir Kovalchuk. We are actually in an art gallery on Dupont St. Walls are white. The chairs are white. At the back is a white, gauzy curtain.

There are 10 metal benches that are moved, raised, arranged, tilted, stood on their end and overturned as the scenes change. I realize soon enough, this is not a production about telling a story. This is a production about moving furniture. Mixed in are lots of projections and sound effects.

It begins with a filmed segment of Richard’s famous speech, “Now is the Winter of our discontent….” It’s a tight close up of the face of the actor playing Richard. There is no context of how that speech relates to his deformed body, which explains his consuming anger. To make matters worse, the actor doesn’t give any clue that he knows what he’s saying. It’s all dreary recitation.

Not to single him out the whole cast is out of its depth with Shakespeare, his poetry, the meaning, the emotions. Simple enunciation, diction, projection and being intelligible are a challenge for the company.

The director, Tatiana Jennings is no help either because she seems more interested in creating her visuals than in helping get credible performances from her cast. I won’t name any of the actors.

These folks formed Kadozuke Kollektif after they graduated from the Humber College Theatre Program in 2004. Good for them. They make their own work. I just wish it was so much better.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at twitter @slotkinletter

Richard III, The Pleasures of Violence plays at the Zuke Gallery 1581 Dupont Street.

Tickets available by calling 647-705-9117 or online at

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.