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Richard III – Review of Outstanding Stratford Festival Production

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Colm Feore (centre) as Richard III with André Sills as Duke of Buckingham and members of the company in Richard III. Stratford Festival 2022. Photo by David Hou.

The 2022 season of the Stratford Festival opened with Hamlet and Chicago, both at the Festival Theatre. But there was another premiere of a production and a theatre and that was Richard III at the new Tom Patterson Theatre. Both are dazzling and “must see” by any measure.
The last resting place, if that is the right expression, of the murderous King Richard III who was killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, were unknown. But in 2015 his remains were discovered buried under a parking lot in Leicester, England. That is exactly where Director Antoni Cimolino has chosen for the opening scene of the production under review.
We see people digging a hole in the concrete of pavement parking, presumably the parking lot in Leicester, and suddenly the Duke of Gloucester, soon to be King Richard III appears and the great and memorable opening lines of Shakespeare’s play are spoken by Colm Feore. We will go back to the beginning in the final scene but you should see that for yourself.
Richard III is a long and at times complex play. With a total of 63 characters some with changing allegiances and murders, it would tax an astute memory to keep track of everyone. But the core of Richard’s character, his evil, his cunning, his humour and his sheer joy at his malevolence maintain the thrust of the play.
Cimolino keeps a firm grip on the action and aided by a brilliant cast and abetted by superb use of lighting, sound effects and movement, he delivers a riveting production.
Colm Feore gives a career-defining performance as the wiry, manipulative, depraved, psychologically and physically deformed duke who is able to get rid of his older brother, the Duke of Clarence, his nephews, including the heir to the throne and become king. Richard is a consummate actor and Feore has to handle the outward appearance and the inward reality of the vile king and he does so with impeccable acting.
He is in good company, especially the women in the play and the cast. Diana Leblanc going strong as ever plays the Duchess of York. She is the grieving and in the end cursing mother of the royals – King Edward IV, the Duke of Clarence and the murderous Duke of Gloucester who kills one of her sons and her grandchildren. Leblanc expresses grief, anger, hatred and nobility.
The veteran and outstanding Lucy Peacock plays Queen Elizabeth, the mother of the young princes that Richard murders and as if that were not enough is asked to persuade her daughter Princess Elizabeth (Hannah Wigglesworth), a silent character added by Cimolino, to marry the killer. A bravura performance.
The inimitable Seana McKenna plays Queen Margaret, the wife of King Henry VI. Her husband and son were killed by the Duke of Gloucester and her loathing for him, her name-calling, curses and desire for revenge have no bounds. McKenna gives a masterful performance and there is no surprise in that. Eleven years ago, almost to the day, she played Richard III in the then Tom Patterson Theatre.
Jessica B. Hill deserves kudos for her performance as Lady Ann. Richard stops the funeral procession of her husband and shamelessly woos her. She resists and then gives in but gets to roundly curse him near the end. Well done.
Cimolino gives several minor male roles to women but they are of little moment. James Tyrell, the murderer of the princes in the tower becomes Jane Tyrrell in the hands of Hilary McCormick.
Of the nobility, Andre Sills plays the wily and treacherous Duke of Buckingham, Ben Carlson is Lord Hastings,
Jamie Mac is the victorious Henry Tudor, future Henry VII. Well-turned out performances.
The battle scenes are handled expertly with judicious use of sound, lighting, and well-orchestrated movements. The new Tom Patterson is a theatre-in-the-round like the old one but vastly improved. It proved its effectiveness again by having the audience close to the stage and the action.
Richard III has a solid pedigree at the Stratford Festival and using it to open the new theatre is commendable. It was the first play to be produced at Stratford in 1953 with the great Alec Guinness in the title role under the direction of Tyrone Guthrie. Alan Bates played King Richard in 1967 followed by Brian Bedford and, of course, a much younger Colm Feore in 1988. And then, as I mentioned earlier, came Seana McKenna in 2011.
Go back to the beginning of this review and accept my advice to go see the production.
Richard III by William Shakespeare opened on June 4 and will run until October 30, 2022, at the Tom Patterson Theatre as part of the Strafford Festival in Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca

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