BWW Review: BOOTH'S RICHARD III - Gloriously Reborn
Recreated from John Wilkes Booth's personal prompt book, The Hidden Room in conjunction with The Harry Ransom Center present a hybrid version of RICHARD III that hasn't been seen on stage since 1864. Gloriously reborn from the pages of history, this is the villain king like you've never seen him before.
William Shakespeare penned his TRAGEDY OF KING RICHARD III around 1593. But this play isn't Shakespeare's, like Nahum Tate did with KING LEAR, Colley Cibber does with RICHARD III. In 1700 Cibber reworks the Bard and presents a play that would be the most popular version of the dastardly king for the next 120 years. This retelling bears a strong resemblance to the original but with fewer characters and is substantially shorter than Shakespeare's second longest play. This production takes a further step by using the prompt book; a director's script copy where notes are scribbled, lines are cut and revisions are made. This particular book belonged to none other than John Wilkes Booth, the actor who murdered President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. The discovery of Booth's book is of historical moment, not because of his infamy as a presidential assassin, but because of who Booth was before his heinous act. His father Junius Brutus Booth was an English actor, famed in his homeland before he reached American shores; Julius' progeny became the most famous actors of their age, spreading theatre from New York to California and every civilized spot in between. The scholarship involved in the recreation of this production is monumental, a feat The Hidden Room should be extremely proud of. The Shakespearean tradition lays multiple murders at Richard's door and historical inaccuracies aside, it makes for great drama. There are few more gleeful killers on stage than the hunchback king and Judd Farris makes the most of every wicked moment in the title role.
As impressed as I am by the scholarship behind BOOTH'S RICHARD III, I am even more impressed by Beth Burns' flawless direction, the stellar cast and the simply gorgeous costuming. The entire production is a magical trip in a time machine to the 1860's and Booth's theatrical world courtesy of Eric Colleary's amazing research. Performing in the historic Scottish Rite Theatre with its antique stage drops makes the journey complete. One can easily imagine being part of an antebellum audience viewing a troupe of traveling actors bringing their show from town to town. The cast is outstanding, headed by local Shakespearean great, Judd Farris as the evil king. He clearly relishes every dastardly deed and gives the audience a performance that surpasses his award winning turn as Hotspur in The Hidden Room's HENRY IV. Farris has an innate talent that transcends the ages and brings ancient characters to breathing, fervent life. Brock England, in dual roles as Henry VI, the unseated king and Richmond (the future Henry VII) is both hauntingly tragic and dynamically magnetic as both Lancastrian monarchs. As the plotting Lord Buckingham, Robert Matney gives a brilliant performance, as Richard's chief henchman. The tragic Queen Elizabeth (Woodville), Andrea Smith is heartbreaking as her sons are ripped from her arms to their certain death. Lynn Mikeska gives a gripping performance as Richard's suffering wife, the Lady Anne. Costuming by Jenny McNee is utterly astounding, the rich fabrics and the attention to detail is unreal. The smallest accents are meticulously researched, from the tiny sunburst medallions on Queen Elizabeth's cape (the 'sun in splendour' is the heraldic device of her husband Edward IV) to the red and white rose badges on the chainmail coifs for the rival houses of Lancaster and York respectively. Every costume is lovingly constructed and beautifully designed to reflect the late 15th century period. The action on stage is magnificent, Toby Minor's fight choreography is fantastic, especially in the rousing extended final battle scene. Lighting designed by Rachel Atkinson is especially exciting for its use of period footlights that cast ominous shadows on the actors faces accentuating the villainy delightfully and giving the performance an historical feel.
I give my highest recommendation to The Hidden Room's BOOTH'S RICHARD III for anyone who enjoys theatre in all its forms. It must be seen to be enjoyed, it is eminently entertaining and a once in a lifetime event. Massive credit to The Hidden Room for bringing glorious productions from the past to grace the stage once more. Not only is this an educational experience, the pure love of the craft is reason enough to attend. Because if it's short run seating is limited. I urge you to make your reservations today. This is the show everyone will be talking about the rest of the rest of the year, don't miss it!
Photos by Kimberley Mead
BOOTH'S RICHARD III
Based on the play by William Shakespeare
The Hidden Room Theatre at Scottish Rite Theatre
Directed by Beth Burns
June 15 - 30
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes, with one 10 minute intermission
Tickets: $15 - $30, hiddenroomtheatre.com