Regional Shakespeare

Crookback in Review | Shakespeare in Toronto


This is part of an ongoing series of regional Shakespeare coverage. It’s Lauren here this week with the latest in Shakespeare news from Toronto and surrounding area – this week’s article is a review of the fantastic solo production of Crookback by Tim Welham in Oakville last weekend by my favourite guest contributor Victoria Carlisle! Read further for her amazing account of Welham’s solo performance!


Tim Welham in Crookback. Credit: Tim Welham

Tim Welham in Crookback. Credit: Tim Welham

Tim Welham’s Crookback, a one man production of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of King Richard the Third turned Sheakespeare’s essentially Tudor propagandist play on its head. By having Richard speak the words that have tarnished his legacy since his death from his own perspective, Welham has effectively taken the dominant historical narrative and reworked it to revitalize Richard’s character. Though Welham does present Richard as a flawed and devious character, he is never depicted as evil. This productions posits that Richard’s villainy stems from his ambition for the crown, and by embodying the other characters in the play such as Queen Elizabeth and Buckingham, the audience is left realizing that villainy is a matter of perspective.

In studying the War of the Roses, Richard is just one in a long line of ambitious men (and women) who asserted their claim to the English throne; yet Richard has been memorialized in Shakespeare’s play, and historical narratives, as the epitome of evil and is considered one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains. The brilliance of Welham’s portrayal is his Richard that makes use of this dominant narrative about his character to redeem himself. Through Welham’s embodying of the other key parts in the play through Richard’s perspective, he illustrates that the other characters are just as ambitious and calculated as himself. Welham stated in the play’s program that “Shakespeare’s true genius is that his villains tell us more about ourselves than we could possibly imagine,” this production illustrates that we all have the potential to be villains given the right context and perspective.

Welham’s transitions from one character to another were seamless; there was never a doubt as to who he was embodying at any given moment. Besides his depiction of Richard, I found his portrayal of Margaret of Anjou the most interesting. Welham used a voice one would associate with a prophetess or a witch and continuously moved his fingers as though they were tentacles or the legs of a spider. By using movements one would associate with a spider, something that has long been associated with the portrayal of Richard, illustrates, again, that villainy is a matter of perspective. What was also fascinating in the production is that Richard never embodies Richmond, and the production focuses almost exclusively on Richard’s acquisition of the crown and not his loss of it. Welham also brought humour to the production because his Richard acknowledged and could laugh at the absurdity of many of his schemes such as his plans to marry Anne or Elizabeth of York.

Crookback Tim Welham. Photo Credit: Tim Welham

Crookback Tim Welham. Photo Credit: Tim Welham

The production was truly a community affair. Everyone present seemed to know Weldham personally, or knew of him. There was an air of complete and utter faith and support in the theatre. It was evident that this performance was truly a homecoming for Welham.

Welham is an incredible performer. He was able to engage the audience with only a black wall, chalk, a tape recorder, a few candles, and the intensity of his performance. There was never a dull moment. The chalk outlines showcased Richard’s inner psyche. Every time he succeeded in eliminating a character he would cross their name off of the wall. Some incredible moments came from where Richard positioned himself. The moment that struck me most is when Richard sits on his throne and the chalk outlines behind him look like the legs of a spider. There upon he states that he wants the prince in the tower dead, while written perfectly on either side of his head, as though they were his thoughts, appeared the Prince of Whales’ name. The intensity of the moment took my breath away. There were also several illustrations drawn on the wall including several crowns and a fetus in a womb outlined and circled in chalk, as if to remind the audience that Richard was untimely ripped from his mother’s womb.

The strength of Shakespeare’s Richard the Third, stems from the connection Richard is able to foster with the audience through his numerous soliloquies. Welham played on this strength by having the entire play told by Richard. All of the other characters words are filtered through Richard’s understanding of them. By removing the majority of the historical references that Shakespeare employs in his play, this production focuses on the flawed individual at the centre of the play. By focusing on Richard’s biased perspective of the events of the play, he re-purposes and takes control of the narrative that has so long worked against him and tarnished his name.

From Victoria’s account, if you missed out on the opportunity to see this fantastic solo performance, you missed out on a great production – stay tuned to Welham’s website and Facebook – Crookback in case he offers another remount because I guarantee it’s one you won’t want to miss twice!

Lauren Shepherd

Author Lauren Shepherd

Lauren Shepherd is a current PhD Candidate at The University of Toronto's Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies. She has studied at Shakespeare's Globe, and researched in the RSC archives. She has studied under the direction of renowned actors/directors/playwrights/voice masters such as Howard Barker (and The Wrestling School), Jane Lapotaire, Emma Thompson, Trevor Rawlins, Philip Bird, Philip Stafford, Glynn MacDonald, & Stewart Pearce while abroad, and taken Masterclasses from Gloria Mann, Chick Reid & Tom McCamus in Canada. Lauren's current research is in the performance and diagnosis of 'madness' on the early modern stage. Lauren recently co-founded a performance troupe that works with early modern and Shakespearean texts, as well as adaptations and modernizations. The Shakespearience Group's work is experimental, and rooted in creating experiences of Shakespeare (and other early modern playwrights) that audience members can share and explore. Their goal is to create engaging performances that tell stories, communicate needs, and facilitate new experiences as well as the remembrance of past experience; the idea of recalling memories and exploring those pathways. Their inaugural performance was grounded in Lauren's PhD research on madness, titled Fortune's Fools, and premiered at the 2014 Flounder Festival at Burlington Student Theatre Centre. For the summer of 2015 The Shakespearience Group is scheduled to perform Twelfth Night, as well as run both Summer Camp (for youth aged 10-16) and Masterclass (for those 16+) at Burlington's local community theatre, Drury Lane.

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