Reviewed by Joseph Michael Mishler
We have seen Seana McKenna play a number of roles at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. This year we specifically went to see her performance in the title role in Richard III. Richard was a man with a physical deformity and ambition. He wanted to be king, and when the opportunity presented itself, he made his move.
If we weren’t familiar with Seana McKenna, we would have thought we were watching a male actor perform as Richard. McKenna played the part like a man and was completely consistent throughout the play. Her physical condition was there for all to see, and she played it so well anyone would have thought it was real. Richard was a conniver, a liar, and very persuasive. He even wooed the wife of the king he killed whose body laid on the stage near them.
The performance was powerful and riveting. Richard looked the audience in the eye and took the play to them.
Richard III was performed at the Patterson Theatre in Stratford. Patterson is an arena theatre with seating on three sides. The stage is long, with many entrances. The set for Richard III was simple but powerful. Reds and blacks dominated the stage. Richard and his cronies were dressed in black while others were dressed more colorfully.
Queen Margaret, played by Martha Henry, was besieged by all. She lost everything and delivered a powerful condemnation of the grief foisted on her. Richard’s evil henchmen played their parts extremely well. They looked like types you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley or even on a lighted street.
Lord Hastings (Nigel Bennett), one of Richard’s advisors, played the part of a fool well. Lured in by Richard, he thought he was safe. However, under Richard no one was safe, and Hastings lost his head along with many others. The rest of the cast performed equally as well.
Even the audience was lured in by Richard. His seductive character was splendidly played by McKenna. Richard admitted he was evil and vile and didn’t care. When he repented it was only if it was politically savvy, but he didn’t mean it. The action is continuous with hardly enough time to breathe as it moves on to the next bloody action.
The killing of the king’s two sons was one of Richard’s more brutal acts. He lured them in as their advisor and then killed them. Machiavelli would have been quite proud of Richard because he tore several pages from his book. He played the “divide and conquer” strategy to the nth degree. Even Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and a few others could have taken a few lessons from him.
The play ends with the battle where Richmond, although with a smaller force, defeats Richard. Ghosts of people he murdered haunt the king before the battle. During the battle the ghosts intermingle with the combatants and cause Richard to be a less than effective soldier. It was a beautiful, haunting scene. He is killed in a dramatic moment by Richmond, the next king. Richard had ruled for only two years.
If you seek real excellence, which can be difficult to find, Richard III is a play you should see. The play continues in Stratford, Ontario, through August.