Review: 'Richard III' at The Shakespeare Company

Vicki Trask

  • Calgary Critic

I honestly haven’t attended a school matinee performance since I was in high school and I’d forgotten how unique an experience it is. On a mildly warm Thursday morning on the 29th day of September, I saw The Shakespeare Company’s performance of “Richard III” (presented in partnership with Hit and Myth Productions) and I just adored it. 

Now, full disclosure: I saw the “high school” version which, according to one of the coordinators I spoke with, is slightly different so I can’t speak to your experience when you attend the evening/“normal” production. I can speak to the specific audience who took time away from their classrooms to see a classic play brought onto the stage in an imaginative and encapsulating way.

As the actors took their first positions on the set (designed by JP Thibodeau with a mix of utility, and a contemporary majesty), the crowd fell silent. For the next two hours, they were fully engaged in this unique, leather-clad retelling of the hunchbacked, Machiavellian King of England, with their own teenaged flair. 

Whenever I’ve participated in weekday matinees with schools, I’ve found the students to be very respectful. Quiet but respectful; if they made any noise at all, it was to clap at the end of each act. Not this school. They laughed, and gasped, and “ooh”ed and were generally very vocal without being disruptive in any way. I’d like to see that more. I think it’s okay for people to cheer, or call out, or generally make noise when attending theatre so I was very happy to see such student engagement at this performance. 

And such well-deserved engagement have I yet seen on this stage. The Studio at Vertigo Theatre has hosted incredible, ground-breaking theatre over the years and this show was absolutely no exception. 

To begin with, the women in the cast (all five of them) blew me away. 

•    Elinor Holt, taking on the roles of Clarence, Duchess of York, and Bishop of Ely, embodied such character every time she stepped on the stage;
•    Amy Burks played such a heartbroken, resigned Lady Anne (and later, a very noble Herbert);
•    Brianna Johnston’s Catesby was powerful, commanding, and just a bit sexually confusing in all that leather; 
•    Natasha Girgis captured my attention as the crazed and grieving Queen Margaret – her entrance was the first time I felt the audience sit back in their seats just to watch what she’d do next – bravo; 
•    Though, I would be remiss if I didn’t applaud Queen Elizabeth, so masterfully played by Myla Southward. I have no words to describe the grace and strength she brought to the stage. Simply beautiful.
The male cast consisted of eight strapping men, two children, and one hunchback, all with a great presence on the stage. 
•    Tyler Fraser, as Brackenbury/William Brandon, was the very definition of stoic and noble; 
•    Myron Dearden as Hastings/Norfolk/Additional Cast, gave life to all of his characters with steady energy and skill; 
•    Caleb Gordon’s performance as Rivers/Blunt/Murderer/Additional Cast played a very convincing, conflicted murderer – almost too well – along with all his various noble positions; 
•    Trevor Matheson as Grey/Lord Mayor/Additional Cast mostly stole my focus as the mayor who had a certain flair to his character which brought a smile to my face; 
•    Kevin Corey as Buckingham/Additional Cast, whose fly was open and boots were undone, brought an overall consistent and entertaining performance with him; 
•    I applaud John McIver’s sword work as Richmond/Murderer/Tyrrel/Additional Cast, thanks, in no small part, to the coordination of Fight Director Karl Sine; 
•    Jason Schneider as Edward/Ratcliff/Additional Cast was ever regal and commanding no matter the character he played and;
•    Glen Sine’s performance as Archbishop of York/Additional Cast, gave a wonderfully light and professional air to everything he did.

From the moment the boys took the stage, Fionne A.J. Laird (York) and RubyJune Bishop (Young Edward/Young Richard) humanized this epic historical tragedy with such sweet and innocent portrayals. It was actually very interesting to watch the adult characters interacting with the boys. They took an extra exhale and relaxed into their bodies a little more; it was fascinating.

Well, they all relaxed, except for Richard. 

Haysam Kadri played Richard; plain and simple. He embodied such a conniving, impish character with the ease and mastery that comes with pure talent – and practice, assuming he does not wake up every morning with that murderous smile. I was just so impressed with every aspect of his performance. I could not accurately describe what I saw on that stage, except to tell you that he was amazing.

I think it was an incredibly well designed and portrayed performance by all the players, and I thank director Ron Jenkins for his creativity and management on this show. The semi-contemporary concept gave it more of a palpable and intense imagery to join the text to the audience, which – to me –is so crucial. I also applaud David Fraser and Corwin Ferguson for their Lighting and Sound/Projection Design respectively. The beats and the pops of colour added – literally – another layer to the play and gave it that much more tangibility. 

These are old characters and old stories brought to life on the stage like it has, year after year, all over the world. I think this particular team of creators and designers brought forth something new and interesting. I recommend seeing a Shakespearean performance no matter what, however, this particular performance of “Richard III” was so fantastic I urge you to see it while it’s still playing (until October 8th). There’s still one more week to see this bloody good production so I suggest you make your way down to Vertigo Theatre.