Review: Stratford Festival's RICHARD III is a Riveting Night at the Theatre

Presented at the Brand New Tom Patterson Theatre

By: Jun. 09, 2022
Review: Stratford Festival's RICHARD III is a Riveting Night at the Theatre
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Opening week at the Stratford Festival concluded on Saturday evening with a riveting production of Shakespeare's RICHARD III at the brand new (and gorgeous) Tom Patterson Theatre. Directed by Antoni Cimolino and starring Colm Feore, this production offers an impressive take on one of Shakespeare's greatest villains. With a skilled company and stunning design and effects, this production is certain to leave audiences talking about it long after the performers take their final bow.

Like the two productions that opened before it, RICHARD III was originally slated for the 2020 season that never was. The fact that it was finally having its opening night, coupled with this being the first opening of a production at the beautiful new Tom Patterson Theatre, allowed for an exciting buzz in the minutes leading up to the top of the show. That buzz was even louder as audiences left their seats at the end of the night.

Although there is some discussion regarding whether history has been unfair to Richard III compared to other monarchs who were seemingly just as cutthroat (sometimes quite literally) - Shakespeare's version of Richard III is most certainly a villain - responsible for some heinous, unforgiveable acts all in the name of attaining power. Don't be surprised if at times you still find yourself rooting for him though. Feore brings a charisma to the character that will draw you in and have you holding your breath to see if the character's plans succeed.

The opening of the play pulls from real-life headlines of 10 years ago, as we see Richard III's remains being discovered under a parking lot in modern day times. As Feore emerges onto the stage, we are transported into Shakespearean times. Feore's Richard does not have a hunch back, as the character has been portrayed in the past, but instead a physical disability that appears to resemble scoliosis and a milder form of cerebral palsy. This choice makes sense given that the discovery of Richard's remains is included at the top of the play, and much was made at the time of the discovery, of the fact that Richard III did not in fact have a hunch back. It is evident that Feore's portrayal of Richard's physical disability is handled with much respect and care. The production has consulted with Debbie Patterson - A disability consultant and dramaturg to ensure that this portrayal is fair and realistic.

A common trope in theatre and film - And one that the Disability community is understandably wary of, is that of a disabled body being a physical manifestation of a 'disabled' sense of morality. Shakespeare certainly utilizes this in this play as other characters and Richard himself frequently comment on Richard's 'disfigurement.' Cimolino addresses this in the Director's Notes, commenting that "it is not Richard's body that causes his evil, but his mind's deliberate decision to use evil means for his own ends." What's more, Richard utilizes all the tools he possesses, including others' perception of his disability, to achieve his goals. He is often underestimated and he uses this to his advantage. This trope is often used to dehumanize a character, but that certainly is not the case here, as Feore's Richard, despite his villainy, is painfully human.

One final note on this topic - It is always a treat to see Feore on the Stratford stage, and this casting is thrilling - but it would be interesting if in a future production, the role of Richard III was played by a disabled actor.

Speaking of casting, Cimolino has assembled quit the lineup for this skit. In addition to Feore's stellar portrayal of the cunning, yet tragic Richard, the rest of the company provides outstanding performances as well. Seana McKenna is captivating as Queen Margaret - the one character who sees right through Richard from the start and is aware of the pain and destruction he will cause, as he has already killed those closest to her. Another standout is Jessica B. Hill, who is heartbreaking as Lady Anne, who descends into despair after she is manipulated into marrying Richard.

The use of sound, lighting, design, and effects elevates an already great show into another stratosphere. Cimolino, Sound Designer John Gzowski, Designer Francesca Callow and Lighting Designer Michael Walton have outdone themselves here. Richard's dream sequence and the battle at the end of the play are both absolutely chill-inducing. These two scenes in particular offer a brilliant use of this new stage and space.

What a successful opening week it has been at the Stratford Festival! It is exciting to see what else is in store, but for now, audiences are in great hands with plays like RICHARD III.

RICHARD III continues in Repertory at the Tom Patterson Theatre until October 30th.

Photo Credit: David Hou



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