(Haysam Kadri as Richard III. Photo courtesy Benjamin Laird Photo)
The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions presents
Richard III at Vertigo Studio through Oct 8
Tickets: http://www.shakespearecompany.com or 403-221-3708
If you could only use one word to describe the Shakespeare Company’s stunning production of Richard III, that word would be power.
You can practically see the word flashing out of Richard’s (Haysam Kadri) glassy gaze at the top of the show, playing Gloucester, a deformed hunchback , absolutely miserable at the news that his older, non-deformed brother is about to succeed to the throne.
“Now is the winter of our discontent,” he says, as if he was a Calgary commercial real estate developer, before launching into one of Shakespeare’s more legendary monologues, detailing how he plans to take down everyone in the two family clans of kingdom in order to become King – at any cost.
What is so eerie is that Richard III arrives on a Calgary stage on the eve of an American presidential election, featuring a candidate whose unbridled ambition might make Richard III throw up in his throat a little – Donald Trump.
Trump, a little brother who craves respect and recognition and achieving power at any cost, looks like Richard III’s long-lost doppleganger – all of which has the impact of transforming Shakespeare’s 400 year old text into something that feels ripped straight from the headlines.
But if power is what Richard craves, power also courses through the production, in a series of brilliant performances, all of it directed with unbridled intensity by director Ron Jenkins, who has finally found the Shakespeare script that perfectly matches his hammer time theatrical sensibility.
(Amy Burks and Haysam Kadri in Richard III. Photo courtesy Benjamin Laird Photo)
One of Trump’s soft spots, in his Monday night Presidential Wrestlemania with Hillary Clinton, was his women trouble – and what makes Richard III such a theatrical thrill (as opposed to the Shakespeare Co’s mysoginistic 2014 production of Othello), is the presence, in Shakespeare’s text, of a quartet of powerhouse women.
They’re led by Amy Burks, as Lady Anne, part of Lancaster clan, whom Richard sets his sights on, even if she’s married (to his brother) with kids.
Then there’s Natascha Girgis, as Clarence (Lord Stanley) and Queen Margaret, as well as Queen Elizabeth (Myla Southward), a steely minded member of the court who sets off the richter scale with some of her glares towards Richard III – and let’s not forget Eleanor Holt (Clarence/Duchess of York/Bishop of Ely), either.
All of it comes in reaction to the ghastly human toll Richard extracts from everyone around him in order to achieve his ultimate goal of becoming the King.
Kadri, a Stratford veteran before becoming a Calgary theatrical legend, has a history with Richard III, and it shows, in all the best ways, in this production. He’s sensational from one moment to the next, whether plotting his ascension, announcing – then successfully executing – the courtship of Lady Anne, or talking his way out of all the horrifying violence he’s unleashed on the court, which regards him as a kind of Elizabethan hillbilly with a hunch back – he’s a 16th century Ratso Rizzo (the homeless hero of the Oscar-winning film Midnight Cowboy played by Dustin Hoffman in 1969).
You don’t even have to watch Kadri – just listen to the way in which he vocalizes the role, jumping up, down and all around in a mad series of growls, grimaces and grim prognostications, followed by lunatic rationalizations that echo the crazy ways in which Trump attempts to spin his way out of one verbal train wreck or another.
Those verbal gymnastics are counterbalanced by Southward’s stoic Elizabeth, who stands extremely still and shoots gamma rays of hatred towards Richard, hoping against hope that he will dissolve into ash.
Jenkins delivers the show at a relentless pace, and it brings the trademarks that The Shakespeare Company have been bringing to their productions for half a decade now, since Kadri took over in 2012: energy, intensity, wit, terrific costumes (by Victoria Krawchuk), set design (by JP Thibodeau), fine supporting performances (by both kids, Fionn AJ Laird and RubyJune Bishop) and fury. A lot of fury.
All of it is delivered in an economical production – Kadri also is a masterful Shakespearean dramaturge – of around two hours, that will have you out of your seat and back into the street by 9:30pm – not that you’ll be longing to get there.
That’s because with Kadri, Jenkins and a quartet of terrific women at the helm, this Richard III means that more just means way, way more.