PerformanceRegional Shakespeare

Crookback Sighting in Oakville | 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 I bring you a quick interview with Tim Welham, Oakville native and creator/performer of Crookback, a solo adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III, as well as some exciting upcoming productions for the month of May. This month should keep you busy, and entertained, with your back neatly crooked in the back of that theatre seat…

So sit back, and read on!

Welham’s promotional material bills his re-mounted solo production as one which “follows Richard’s bloody and murderous rise to power, as he destroys everything in his path to the throne. Thirteen of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters are brought to life in a riveting and unforgettable performance”. Reviews of the past performances are excessively positive (★★★★★ “Unmissable!” (remote goat) ★★★★★ “Welham is a marvel.” (viewsfromthegods) ★★★★ “Exhilarating!” (Edmonton Journal) – leading me to inquire further with the creator and actor himself. Below is our exchange on the topic of his re-mounted solo production Crookback.

Tim Welham in Crookback. Credit: Tim Welham

Tim Welham in Crookback. Credit: Tim Welham

What challenges have you encountered in re-mounting a production?

The main challenge has been consistency of performance, and consistency of design. When re-entering the rehearsal process after months or years away from the project, it’s important to keep searching for inspiration. It’s dangerous to let the work become stale or static, so we are constantly approaching the work in different ways, and trying new things to advance the story and improve the design. But ultimately, the work itself keeps us alert and inspired.

What has evolved and what has remained constant?

The general story-line has remained constant, but the text has evolved as scenes and moments are cut or streamlined. The concept behind the production is also evolving: currently, we are adjusting the role of the “Crookback” character – the one telling the story of Richard III. As we’ve started to see it, “Crookback” has become Richard III’s inner psyche / consciousness, and much of the play flows from this dark and twisted place.

Our set design is also changing, and we are moving towards a tour-friendly set. We are looking to streamline the design, and pair the technical elements down to only what is necessary and vital to telling the story: keeping what adds and clarifies the concept, and removing the more confusing components.

You mention in your 2013 interview with Shakespeare in the Ruff that your physicality for Richard was inspired, for example, by Olivier and Sher, though markedly different – was it important to revisit these physical portrayals in your rehearsal process this time? I am particularly interested also in Sher’s bottled spider in connection to your own production – did you read his book The Year of the King in which he chronicles his own journey into becoming Richard? Have you by any chance kept a diary of your progress like Sher? If so, has it been useful?

Tim Welham in Crookback. Credit: Tim Welham

Tim Welham in Crookback. Credit: Tim Welham

I used Laurence Oliver and Antony Sher’s phsyicalizations only as a launching point when initially creating the Richard body. I also researched the recorded performances of Ian McKellen, David Troughton, Henry Goodman, and Canada’s Tom McCamus, in addition to seeing live portrayals by Seana McKenna at Stratford, Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic, and Mark Rylance at the Globe. It always helps to revisit the source material, but after living with the play in my body for so many years, the transformation has almost become second-nature.

However, each time we remount the show, it does become vitally important to revisit the bodies of the other characters, and to remember how the transformations take place. Since it’s usually a transformation from Ricahrd III’s body into another character, the Richard body always informs the transition into the new character. Questions like “How did I go from Richard to Anne last time? Did we keep the foot extension, or cut it?” have to be re-explored.

I did read and quote Sher’s Year of the King in great detail while writing my Masters thesis in England. I suppose the bottled spider reference is reflected in the set design, and the way our Crookback / Richard III character has created his web of a lair. Chalk marks line the walls like spokes on a spider’s web, and Crookback scuttles around the space, weaving back and forth, in and out of plots, characters and situations. The physical movements of a spider were something we initially used while creating the character, and there are still echoes in the current version, but the majority of the arachnid-like gestures were dropped in favour of more subtle movements. 

Tim Welham in Crookback. Credit: Tim Welham.

Tim Welham in Crookback. Credit: Tim Welham.

I haven’t kept a daily diary, like Sher, but I have kept my notes and script annotations from each workshop and production. I often use the notes to remind myself of past discoveries, and to remember what worked and what didn’t. So, in a way, I am able to re-incorporate elements from previous productions far easier then if starting from scratch each time. 


This is a project you have been working through for some time now, what do you do to keep everything fresh? And how has the longevity of the production informed your understanding of the character? Has your own age and/life experiences influenced a new understanding of the humanity in Richard?

To keep it fresh, I work a lot with the thoughts. I have to revisit the specific thinking of each character in each moment, and build a kind of thought road-map in my mind. (Or, rather, multiple simultaneous overlaid maps for each character.) Because I am reacting to my own voice, I have to make the thinking incredibly specific so as not to lose my place in the text. This keeps it fresh. If I am switched on, focused, alert, and thinking quickly, the play cracks like fireworks.

We have found there to be two necessary steps when rehearsing: First, I work privately with the text to remember the thoughts, the drives, the actions, the choreography. Then, I meet with director Megan Watson, and we work at refining specific moments, and refreshing the overall piece. There’s absolutely no way I could do this without her. It’s really a two-person project, and she acts as the outside eye, shaping and guiding. I create the content, she the form.

I suppose the real benefit of revisiting the project so many times, is that the work deepens. Emotionally-charged moments that were difficult five years ago have become easier to access. The confidence I have in my abilities has grown, and I have relaxed into the role. And, overall, my acting has improved. I’m not the person I was when I started on this journey, so of course, my life experiences since then inform the project.

For some reason, I’ve always identified with Richard’s plight. His journey is incredibly human. While Richard’s perspective is dark, lonely and terribly frightening, it is still a human one. This is what, I believe, makes his character compelling and his story legendary: through the bloody haze, there is still a lonely man who helps us understand what it means to be human.

Maybe Shakespeare’s true genius is that his villains tell us more about ourselves than we could possibly imagine.

This constantly evolving production and process is certainly not to be missed! You can follow Crookback on Facebook, and tickets for the performance are available through W.E.S.T.’s website.

Crookback runs only one weekend in Oakville – May 15 & 16, 2015 at West End Studio Theatre, 1109 North Service Road, at 8pm.

However, if you already have plans that weekend (though I truly hope you don’t, because as I said, this production must be seen!) perhaps you’d like to check out these local GTA Shakespearean productions in the final days of May!

Wolf Manor Crest. Credit: Wolf Manor Theatre Collective

Wolf Manor Crest. Credit: Wolf Manor Theatre Collective

Wolf Manor Theatre Collective is presenting their second full production, Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This newly formed (late 2013) company is “built on the grounds of professionalism and ambition cultivated among young artists” by graduating students of Ryerson’s Theatre School. Their mandate seeks to combine stylized interpretations of classical texts and devised theatre, creating a malleable production that can be transported to different locations by its intimate & small company. Wolf Manor also engages in community outreach, youth outreach, workshops and more.

Wolf Manor Macbeth. Credit: Joseph Hammon

Wolf Manor Macbeth. Credit: Joseph Hammon

Here’s a note from their Director, Claren Grosz about their production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

“I’ve always been particularly drawn to the conflicting themes of destiny and agency in Macbeth. Witnessing the downfall of the Macbeths certainly makes one think… how much do they bring about their own ruin and how much are they manipulated by something else— something greater? Do the omnipresent witches weave the fabric of fate or simply oversee the inevitable? Are our characters agents of free will, or are their choices shaped by a culture which glorifies war heroes and romanticizes violence? We see in Macbeth that people are neither innately good or evil, but a product of choices both good and bad… which becomes increasingly difficult to judge when the idea of choice itself is called into question.
The witches really wonderfully embody the tension between these ideas of predetermination and manipulation. I wanted to emphasize this by establishing the world of the witches as one that exists outside of the world of the play— somewhere halfway between our own world and Shakespeare’s fictional one. The witches blur the lines between observance and influence, and provide us with a critical commentary on the events of the play. 

Wolf Manor Macbeth. Credit: Joseph Hammon.

Wolf Manor Macbeth. Credit: Joseph Hammon.

People go on about Shakespeare’s universal applicability, and they have it right— all these questions are important for our day-to-day lives. Shakespeare’s words allow us to reflect on our own experience. Macbeth makes us consider how we can cultivate our agency in the face of influences and circumstances beyond our control”. 

Wolf Manor’s Macbeth features Artistic Director Dylan Brenton as Macbeth, and Executive Director Hugh Ritchie as King Duncan & MacDuff. The production runs May 21st – 31st at The Alumnae Studio Theatre, 70 Berkeley Street, Toronto.

Tickets are $20 general / $15 student/senior and are available at RISE espresso (107 Mutual Street, Toronto) or by calling 416-605-4749 or WMTC Macbeth tix – brown paper tickets.

For more information check out their Wolf Manor Theatre Collective.

The Teacher Show. Credit: Shakespeare in the Ruff.

The Teacher Show. Credit: Shakespeare in the Ruff.

And if that isn’t enough – why don’t you check out Shakespeare in the Ruff’s fundraiser this May 29/30/31 at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse, 79 St. George Street, Toronto (University of Toronto St George Campus)!

This fundraising production questions whether anyone would really notice if Shakespeare were take out of the current school curriculum entirely, and explores what we (as a community, society, educators, students etc) gain by Teaching Shakespeare.

Tickets are $35 and are available online through eventbrite.

Westdale Secondary Macbeth. Credit: Westdale Secondary School.

Westdale Secondary Macbeth. Credit: Westdale Secondary School.

Hold the phone – there’s more! The Westdale Senior Drama Class in Hamilton, Ontario will be presenting their full-length production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth at Westdale Secondary School, May 28 & 29 at 7pm. Their production, whose proceeds will be donated to the HeForShe campaign, is an exploratory exercise in gender identity and equality; all roles will be gender-bent.

Tickets are $15 general admission, and $10 for students/seniors.

Well folks, that should certainly keep your back crooked in a theatre seat for the rest of May! Get out there and SEE SOME SHAKESPEARE!!!

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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