In Camyar Chai’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s colossal Richard III, Seven Tyrants Theatre has attempted to cut out the chaff to focus on the relationship between Richard and the women in his life. Illuminating the depths of his depravity, the move isolates some of Shakespeare’s most memorable moments, and fails to flesh out the needed details to humanize the character, turning him into a Disney-esque villain, including a theme song.
King Richard and his Women exists outside of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Beginning on the final battlefield of Shakespeare’s opus, we see Richard killed for crimes we have yet to see. What follows is a dreamlike montage of the Machiavellian ruler’s worst moments resulting in his downfall at the hands of the tortured women lurking in his mind.
This adaptation, while capably acted, begins with Richard at his worst and ends on the same note. There is little character development. And unlike Shakespeare’s original, there is no third act alternative protagonist appearing that the audience can root for.
The result is a play where the audience is turned off by the horrific “hero” at the get go and is never given another chance to connect with a character in the play. While the female characters are strong, they are all victims; something we are told in the opening moments, and while they succeed in vanquishing the monster, they do so as dead women living as memories in the fading moments of a broken man.
Add in some creepy puppets, a five-minute break into musical theatre, and inexplicable nudity, and the show zigzags from idea to idea without committing to a coherent point. What does it mean to call Richard to account? We’re never sure, but boy is he terrible. Let’s watch him be terrible again.
The structure of the play aside, King Richard and His Women has some fantastic performances.
Leanna Brodie’s Elizabeth is a wonderfully nuanced Queen who is both coquettish and cruel, showcasing both strength and weakness in every sip of an ever full wine glass. Sandra Ferens’ Duchess, as the mother of Richard, provides the only conflict as she tries to make excuses for her boy’s behaviour, while Linda Quibell’s Margaret practically spits with palpable rage. Ghislaine Dote is a calm, graceful presence that remains static in spite of the horrors around her, while Daniel Deorksen’s Richard is a touch too unrestrained.
The scenography, also by Camyar Chai, is simple yet effective, consisting of a carved chair and diaphanous drapery. But like the play’s structure, King Richard and His Women‘s set skimps on the details. The drapes are wrinkled with the signs of their packaging, and the mirrors are covered in dusty fingerprints from previous rehearsals – minor details that pull too much of the mundane into this fantasy.
While King Richard and His Women has an intriguing premise and a talented cast, it lacks the attention to detail needed to take it to the next level. That said, with this much talent on stage, this would be one to watch for in future evolutions.
King Richard and His Women, adapted and directed by Camyar Chai. Produced by Seven Tyrants Theatre. On stage at Tyrant Studios (1019 Seymour St, Vancouver) until April 19. Visit tyrantstudios.com for tickets and information.