Festival Theatre at the Stratford Festival 2022
(Note: My review is based on the final preview performance. There may have been some slight differences in the opening night performance.)
This Richard III’s intellectual and emotional depth of characterization makes for a fascinating look at a British historical figure of whom I knew very little.
Two notes to future audiences: make sure you read as much of the programme as possible before the performance begins as very important information is given about the historical character and the time frame. Additionally, leave yourselves enough time to walk around the beautifully restored and enhanced lobby. Truly magnificent to view.
Director Antoni Cimolino has taken a story of political intrigue where Richard (wondrous work by Colm Feore) and the Duke of Gloucester (an intriguing André Sills) take advantage of all the desperate rifts now occurring among the English royals and has carefully woven a fascinating story of a “masterful manipulator” whereby the audience sees Richard’s mind in the “deliberate decision to use evil means for his own ends.”
I have neither seen the play performed live nor have I had the chance to read it so I had to pay close attention; however, when you take the crème de la crème of some of the Festival’s finest actors and create a story of machinations mixed in with murder, this ‘Richard III’ became an engrossing master class in acting.
I may not have understood every single element of the plot, but I heard someone tell the person behind her walking up the aisle at intermission: “If you didn’t understand everything, look at it this way. We saw how awful the character is before the intermission and now after we will see justice take course.”
Let’s start with Stratford’s gifted Colm Feore as the titular character. I knew from the play that Richard was deformed and later learned that this quality was caused by scoliosis (curvature of the spinal cord, something of which I understand completely as I had this over fifty years ago). I also knew of the opening line: “Now is the winter of our discontent”, but that was it.
So, how does one take this opening line and tell this story to an audience of individuals like myself who know very little about the story?
Well, when you have someone like Cimolino, an artistic leader of prolific inspiration, he decides to bring it right out of contemporary news. I remember reading over ten years ago that Richard III’s skeletal remains were found in a British parking lot (or car park as it is called there). Cimolino spoke about this in his Director’s Note and we get to see the excavation going on within the car park (parking lot here in Canada) with the announcement that something of importance has been found. And with this announcement as the opening actors are gathered around what is supposedly the final resting place of Richard, Feore enters with the deformity of scoliosis already in place, his legs are turned in awkwardly and there is a hunch to one side.
But I certainly paid attention.
For me, Feore’s astounding entrance with his first soliloquy of “Now is the winter of our discontent” hooked me immediately and I wanted to see where both the actor and character would take me. To watch the transition to full stop evil is said master class in acting. Absolutely wonderful although some of the murders in the play especially of the young princes are a bit difficult to watch because they look horrifyingly real.
The women in this production are top-notch artists whose work I’ve admired. Jessica B. Hill’s work as Lady Anne, widowed daughter-in-law of the murdered King Henry remained intensely captivating. Lucy Peacock as Queen Elizabeth is both surly and irascible. As Queen Margaret, Seana McKenna is a regal frightening force to be reckoned with. Wayne Best, Michael Blake, David Collins, Sean Arbuckle and Ben Carlson are indomitable towering figures of presence.
What is at first startling near the end of the play is the transition of the actors to modern dress when Jamie Mac’s sturdy invincibility of presence as Richmond becomes victorious in establishing peace, but to beware of traitors (as Alexander Leggatt states in the Programme Note). I’m still puzzled by the reason why this decision was made, and am still in the process of trying to understand why this choice.
Final Comments: So, what to make of ‘Richard III’ to a twenty-first-century audience emerging slowly from a worldwide pandemic?
I mentioned earlier this production is a master class in acting. That it is because I am always interested in watching how actors continue to create, imagine, marvel, experiment and understand new perspectives.
But why this play now? Why does it need to be performed?
I go back to the opening line of the play. Is the winter of our discontent now made glorious OR are we to heed this as a warning of possible future political strife still exists within the world in which we know it?
To quote from another tragedy now playing at the Festival: “That is the question.”
Don't you just love what Shakespeare does? He gets us to think.
Running time: approximately two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission.
As of this article, Covid protocols were in effect at the theatre.
The production runs to October 30 at The Tom Patterson Theatre, 111 Lakeside Drive, Stratford. For tickets, please call 1-800-567-1600 or visit www.stratfordfestival.ca.
RICHARD III by William Shakespeare
Director: Antoni Cimolino
Designer: Francesca Callow
Lighting Designer: Michael Walton
Composer: Berthold Carrière
Sound Designer: John Gzowski
Producer: Dave Auster
The Company: Wayne Best, Michael Blake, Colm Feore, Diana Leblanc, Lucy Peacock, Hannah Wigglesworth, Chase Oudshoorn, Ezra Wreford, Dominic Moody, Bram Watson, Daniel Krmpotic, Chanakya Mukherjee, Sean Arbuckle, Seana McKenna, Andre Sills, David Collins, Sepehr Reybod, Ben Carlson, Jessica B. Hill, Peter N. Bailey, Emilio Vieira, Qasim Khan, Devin MacKinnon, Hilary McCormack, Christo Graham, Jamie Mac, Anousha Alamian, Jordin Hall, Elizabeth Adams, Ron Kennell, Wayne Best, Kim Horsman, Beck Lloyd, Lisa Nasson, Jon de Leon