Studio 58

Shakespeare's Richard III

Dates and Venue 15 November - 9 December 2007 @ 20.00, Studio 58 Langara College

Sets David Roberts Costumes Mara Gottler Lighting John Webber Sound Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe Stage Manager David Warburton

Reviewer Jane Penistan

58 theatre students are having an exciting time in being engaged in the production of one of Shakespeare's longest and bloodiest plays. Richard III is presented in a modern version as far as costumes and sets are concerned, all black leather, shining steel walls and wonderful changing light, some new ladies at court, and typical teenage behaviour on the part of the young princes.

This all makes for a timeless environment for the machinations of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as he claws and schemes his way to the throne of England. Vancouver actor Bob Frazer, who played starring roles in Romeo and Juliet and Taming of the Shrew last summer at Bard on the Beach, returns to his alma mater to distinguish himself in the demanding role of the evil royal villain. Incredibly misshapen, splinted, and crutch reliant, this Richard enjoys both his scheming and his manipulating of his friends and relations.

He revels in his deception of the citizens of London, and he does it all with beautiful diction, and an intellectually brilliant delivery of Shakespeare's lines. He is incredibly nimble in his physical difficulties, and manages his splints and crutches with great dexterity. He is always in command of any situation until his final downfall with the difficult and well-known line, "A horse, My kingdom for horse" as he goes to join his victims in eternity.

Richard is supported by a large cast of queens and royal ladies, courtiers, officials and henchmen, presented by the student actors. This is a play where there are several rewarding roles for women, and the women accept the challenges here with considerable aplomb.

Lady Anne (Maria Oldeen) is not meekly seduced by the wily Richard and accepts the indignity of her summons to Richard's coronation with brave resignation, knowing that her days are numbered. Adrianne Dunsmore, as the white-haired Queen Margaret, shows great strength and character in her dignified deportment and is believable in her furious and almost hysterical scenes.

Jessica Hill has the most difficult of the royal women's roles, but manages her anger and resentment well and is always a loving and comforting, though much distressed regal mother. Georgina Beaty as the Duchess of York and mother to Richard gives a well thought out performance as a disappointed parent, who is also an understanding grandmother. This is a well restrained and warm performance.

An unusual and very nice piece of direction is Bellis's decision to keep the young Elizabeth always on stage with the queens and duchesses. Susie Coodin presents this non-speaking part with youthful charm and innocence, and with the manners and style of a child brought up in a disciplined household.

This history play contains a multitude of male characters, some of whom the director has seen fit to convert to women and others to let the girls act as men. For the most part this works very well. Many of the young actors managed to acquire considerable maturity in their more senior roles. Richard's evil henchmen are cruel, disillusioned, or happy to wreak vengeance, though one or two realize too late, what grizzly tasks they have taken on. Several of the cast play multiple roles, switching from royal siblings or noblemen to commoners or clerics.

Scott Bellis has incorporated innovations. He has solved the problem of getting corpses offstage by opening a ruby lighted trap in the steel backdrop, so that the dead exit to hell without assistance. The ghosts appear and disappear through the same aperture, while another trap provides an entrance and exit for stretchers or low-life characters. At centre height a shutter opens to reveal eavesdroppers, voyeurs or small vignettes. These are not gimmicks used pointlessly, they are scenery used to keep the pace moving smoothly. The speech throughout is clearly and intelligently delivered.

This exciting production, eminently suited to the present day, is an excellent example of the fact that Shakespeare is for a bare stage or for skillfully used technological advances, and that his work is "for all time" and for all seasons and, indeed, for all of us.

© 2007 Jane Penistan