by Lynn on June 15, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont. until Oct. 30, 2022.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Antoni Cimolino

Designed by Francesca Callow

Lighting by Michael Walton

Composer, Berthold Carrière

Sound by John Gzowski

Cast: Elizabeth Adams

Anousha Alamian

Sean Arbuckle

Peter N. Bailey

Wayne Best

Michael Blake

Ben Carlson

David Collins

Jon De Leon

Colm Feore

Christo Graham

Jordon Hall

Jessica B. Hill

Kim Horsman

Ron Kennell

Qasim Khan

Daniel Krmpotic

Diana Leblanc

Beck Lloyd

Jamie Mac

Devin MacKinnon

Hilary McCormack

Seana McKenna

Dominic Moody

Chanakya Mukherjee

Lisa Nasson

Lucy Peacock

Sepehr Reybod

André Sills

Emilio Viera

Bram Watson

Hannah Wigglesworth

Ezra Wreford

A production of Richard III full of pageantry and power opens the new, beautiful Tom Patterson Theatre.

The Story. Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later King Richard III), has been embittered in life by being born ‘misshapen’ and often reviled:

“I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,

Cheated of feature by dissembling Nature,

Deform’d, unfinished, sent before my time

Into this breathing world scarce half made up—

And that so lamely and unfashionable

That dogs bark at me, as I halt by them—”

And while Richard believes that he can’t be a lover, he has decided to be a cunning, malicious villain and murder his way to being king. He lets the audience in on the secret, he is a showman after. But as we know, it doesn’t end well.

The Production and comment. There is a lot to capture our attention as we enter the beautiful new Tom Patterson Theatre for the first time. The building (kudos to architect Siamak Hariri) is exquisite as it curves along the river bank. The theatre itself seems smaller than the original Tom Patterson, but it is just as warm and inviting and this time, very comfortable!

The stage looks like there is construction of some kind going on. Designer Francesca Callow has a trough dug into the stage with plastic covering over it. To show that it’s modern times (although the production is not set in modern times) there is a wheelbarrow with shovels and other digging implements. Near part of the ‘construction’ is a plastic structure that says: University of Leicester. Then I get it: director, Antoni Cimolino is beginning his production of Richard III in a parking lot in Leicester, Engl. where King Richard III’s actual bones were discovered a few years ago. Inspired.

When the production starts, proper, workers in construction overalls and gear come and look in the trough, ponder, peer and do very little—as is the case in many construction sights one learns quickly. Someone yells: “We’ve found something” as they peer into the abyss. Quickly, nimbly Colm Feore as Richard, scampers up out of the trough. (just as quickly, all the construction people disappear)  He holds a sword. He’s dressed in black leather; a small hump protrudes from his back. His legs are askew, one leg bent at the knee that way, the other leg jutting the other way. The walk is halting with the heal of one leg touching down softly, the other foot drooping along but not dragging. The walk is fascinating, nimble and often quick. Here is a character who will not be disadvantaged by a physical anomaly, even though it has twisted his personality.

And then Feore speaks Richard’s first lines: “Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this son of York….” Feore speaks in his ringing, clear, confident voice. His easy facility with Shakespeare’s language is renowned. There is such command. He is almost impish when he shares with the audience his plans for how he will be a villain and will connive, murder and manipulate his way to the Crown, not letting on that he is the centre of all the mayhem until it’s too late.

Richard’s audacity is fierce. He connives to have his trusting brother Clarence (Michael Blake) killed in jail. He stops Lady Anne (a wonderful Jessica B. Hill) on her way to bury her husband by wooing her. As Anne, Jessica B. Hill is both aghast and reviled. But when Richard urges her to kill him since she is so furious at him, she is conflicted. Jessica B. Hill takes Lady Anne through such an emotional journey in this one scene, it’s full of rage, grief, despair and pity. She knows she is doomed too, and that is heartbreaking.

Richard charms the Duke of Buckingham (a confident, courtly André Sills) to be on his side until Richard discards him. Richard plots to have his nephews killed; to marry Queen Elizabeth’s daughter and on and on.

This does not suggest it’s a clear ride for him. The royal women in the play stare him down. Seana McKenna as Queen Margaret is boiling bile when she rages in her crystalline voice at Richard for his past crimes; Lucy Peacock as Queen Elizabeth (‘poor painted Queen’) is a women who knows the fraught times in which she lives because of the dangerous Richard. It’s a performance of nuance and finesse. Diana Leblanc plays the Duchess of York, Richard’s mother. It’s a performance of anger, frustration, disgust and concern all because of her manipulative son.

Director Antoni Cimolino has filled his production with pomp, pageantry and fanfare. The tent scene before the battle of Bosworth Field is particularly impressive with billowing material, shadow and light, preparing the way for the ghosts of those Richard killed.

For some reason Cimolino has changed the gender and therefore the casting of the character of Tyrell. Tyrell is usually played as a man. Here the character is named Jane Tyrell and is played by Hilary McCormack. Tyrell is such a fascinating character; totally in despair, described as ‘discontented’ by whatever haunts him. He is asked to kill Richard’s nephews in the tower. He agrees without hesitation but one is intrigued by a character with such a deep-seated unease and unhappiness. There is such darkness and no sentiment in Tyrell. But Hilary McCormack does play Tyrell with sentiment and pity, so that she is emotionally moved by what she has arranged (two others actually do the killing). I found this confusing and seems at odds with the words.

And while one is always impressed with Colm Feore’s technical expertise with Shakespeare’s language etc. I did find his performance as Richard to be strangely unexplored as deeply as one would expect. To put all that effort into a halting limp and yet not illuminate the whole deformity when he came to the lines “Deform’d, unfinished, sent before my time/ Into this breathing world scarce half made up—” seems odd. Certainly when such lines just beg a moment to turn and show the audience and make them see,  seems like a missed opportunity. And truth to tell I found a lot of the performance let opportunities slip by without a sense nuance. Feore is commanding but I found that his performance should have gone deeper.

Still Richard III is a stirring play and the Tom Patterson Theatre is beautiful, do don’t miss the opportunity to see both.

The Stratford Festival presents:

Plays until: Oct. 30, 2022.

Running time: 3 hours approx. (including 1 intermission).

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1 Richard III Society of Canada June 16, 2022 at 11:59 pm

Feore’s Richard does not have a hump. His costume suggests the historically accurate scoliosis. It could be why the reviewer does not see the exploration into the deformity that they expect.
As for Tyrell, it seems that Cimolino has made an effort to include more women in the play, and that includes giving traditionally male parts to women.
While we deplore, as ever, the inaccuracies in the play, we applaud the production itself.