This is part of an ongoing series of regional Shakespeare coverage. It’s Tori here with the latest in Shakespeare news from Toronto.
Shakespeare lovers rejoice, because from February 6-11 Shakespeare Bash’d will be performing Richard III at The Monarch Tavern. I recently chatted with director Julia Nish-Lapidus and several cast members and they filled me in on why staging Richard III in 2018 could not be more fitting.
Julia: Richard III is a big play and we wanted to really think through how we wanted to tell this story before we started working on it. With what’s going on in the world right now, it seems like the perfect time to put on a play that essentially works as a cautionary tale to warn of the dangers of power hungry leaders. It’s also just a really exciting play and James and I have been dying to work on it together. We want to do all the plays, so it’s just about figuring out what order we have to work in to get them all done someday. And then we can continue to revisit and re-explore, which is one of the best things about these plays: you’re never 100% done with them. There’s always more to discover, or a new approach to try.
You are calling this a new staging of Richard III that explores the current relevance of a dangerous leader’s rise to power. How do you plan to address this in your production?
I think it’s almost impossible not to address this in a production of Richard III in 2018. Every day in rehearsal we hear another line that is all too similar to things we’re hearing from political leaders today. This production is very bare bones. Even more so than many of our company’s past production. It’s modern dress, and we’re stripping it down and taking away most of the set, props, and costumes, to really focus on character and story. Because the story still rings so true today, free from any sort of concept or setting placed on top of it, it’s hard to not see the parallels to today’s world.
Why have you chosen to cast a majority of women to play both the followers and detractors of Richard? Is there a particular resonance you are trying to achieve?
To be honest, it’s as simple as this: there are so many incredible female actors and in Shakespeare, there are so few female roles. As a company, we’ve been working for years to even that out (with a female King John, Laertes, Feste, etc, etc). This bare-bones staging felt like the perfect opportunity to cast incredible actors in incredible roles and that’s what I did. The production is framed as a group of young people putting on a play that feels important for them. Age and gender just aren’t relevant to that. We’ve placed storytelling at the top of the priorities and everything else just serves that, which female actors are so capable of doing. It’s exciting to see this play with a 60% female cast. Women are now everywhere in this story, not just as the people Richard bowls down on his way to the top. That’s how it should be.
What are you most excited about for this production?
I’m excited to see the audience really discover this story again. It moves quickly and you start out as Richard’s friend and confidant, then he makes you complicit in some pretty horrible acts, and then you find yourself cheering on his demise. I can’t wait to watch an audience get charmed by him and then turn on him.
What do you hope audiences take away?
First, I hope they have a great time. It’s an exciting play and there’s a lot of fun in it. That paired with the Monarch Tavern, should make for a great night. But I also hope they’re able to discover something new in this story. Even if they know the play well, I think there’s always something new to be gleaned from it and this stripped-down production, performed by so many incredible actors, is a great chance to hear something new again.
Thanks, Julia! I can’t wait to see the show.James, how excited are you to play Richard III?
James: I’m extremely excited, to say the least. It’s certainly been on the top of my bucket list for a while (forever). But he’s also a challenge, not just because of lines, or because of who/what he is, but because he is such a physical character, and also very cerebral. Not unlike Hamlet but with more manipulation (if that’s possible).
What do you hope audiences take away?
I hope the audience sees something to avoid; a play that shows us something all too familiar of course, but also something tempting: absolute power. That is what Richard feels and he uses it to go create Chaos. Chaos is explosive and dynamic. It’s exciting! And Richard is an artist of Chaos. I want the audience to go on that ride with him.
Richard III is one of the greatest (and possibly most BASH’d and misunderstood) literary villains of all time, how do you plan to tackle this character?
My goal is clarity always. How does what Richard says make Richard who he is? What does he want in the end? To me, he is a master at manipulating the perception of others. He uses such sparse and simple language when talking in soliloquy but then beefs up the rhetoric and hyperbole with Lady Anne, Elizabeth, and others. What kind of person can be so effective but not affected at all? Also, I want to see Richard lose in moments. He hates people. Elizabeth’s family for sure. Especially the two Princes. They embarrass him. He can’t fathom how they go on prating like little insolent garbage people. This leaves him vulnerable and is why he loses in the end. He can’t help his petulance. He just hates everyone. My hope is always to be true to who Richard is. And those places are definitely hard to go, but that’s the play we are doing.
Cosette, you are playing Richard’s right-hand man, Buckingham, how have you approached this character and what do you hope audiences take away?
Buckingham, to me, is very much a politician. He chooses tactics and allies carefully, but never wants to look like he’s trying too hard at anything. So I’m coming at the role with (hopefully) a degree of ease and suavity. My goal is to always look like a yes man, while secretly pushing my own agendas.
Buckingham I think serves an excellent warning for the audience against siding with evil for the sake of personal advancement. You know the expression, “better to serve in heaven than reign in hell”? Buckingham is a pretty cut-and-dry morality lesson on bad choices and their repercussions.
Do you think Richard III is particularly relevant today?
I think Richard III is chillingly relevant today. Our neighbours to the south are currently ruled by a power-hungry, irrational, paranoid megalomaniac. Richard III is a parable about how such monsters manage to acquire power.
What are you most excited about for this production?
I really love the ‘common folk’ characters in our show. Normally a lot of the citizen scenes are edited out of productions of Richard III, but they’re all still in this show and they’ve got a lot of fun, punchy dialogue that brightens up what can otherwise be a pretty heavy-handed play.
How has it been working with Shakespeare BASH’d?
It’s been just awesome working with Shakespeare BASH’d! It’s my first time with the company, so I didn’t know what to expect, and it has turned out to be a really great experience. The cast and crew are fantastic, our director Julia Nish-Lapidus has a strong sense of what she wants the show to be, and to top it all off, post-rehearsal karaoke outings are pretty regular occurrences. Dream come true.
I am of the belief that Anne, the Elizabeths, and Margaret truly control the action of the play. How have you approached your characters and what do you hope audiences will take away?
Jennifer Dzialoszynski (Anne): That is very optimistic of you, though I don’t know that I agree with you on that. I think part of what makes this part, Anne, so difficult is trying to reconcile the feelings of powerlessness that I think Anne has with her personal set of strengths. Life isn’t going well for her at the beginning of the play, her husband and her family have all been murdered, and she, not having attended the funeral of the former king, her father-in-law, is the sole mourner taking his body to be interred. She is very much on her own, with not a lot of power to take charge even of her own life. It is from this place of desolation and isolation, I often wonder what would happen if Margaret and Anne had a scene together (they never appear in the same scene), that she meets with and attempts to fight off Richard. I’ve tried to find a balance of vulnerability and strength for Anne, and I hope what people will be left with is a relatable, not going down without a fight kind of person, who even when walking to her death does it with integrity.
Suzette McCanny (Queen Margaret): To me, Margaret is the only one who can see clearly. She has gone through desolation with Richard before. She eventually is able to give Elizabeth the power she needs to topple him. But some things can’t be done on your own. Sometimes you need to stand behind someone who can get close enough to turn the knife in the heart.
Catherine Rainville (Queen Elizabeth): The women in this show are extremely strong in a fairly abusive world. The momentum of the show, for Elizabeth, puts her in a place of constantly having to take action from her gut instincts. My other character Catesby has a line “It is a reeling world indeed,” and that word reeling is very much where Elizabeth comes from. From the beginning, she is struggling against a current, and she puts up a damn good fight, but in her descent through misery and a whole lot of loss, I think she realizes she has more power if she leans into the current. Ultimately she regains her control, perhaps not in the way she hoped or imagined, and with far fewer family members than when she started, but she survives it and saves her daughter and really helps Richmond to the throne (spoiler alert?). I hope the audience can see the strength that abused women have. Especially the ones who don’t fit the world’s standard of strong, who don’t stand up in the “right way,” or when it’s deemed as soon enough.
Shalyn McFaul (Duchess of York): They are often viewed as secondary by those in more recognized roles of power, but they are the first ones to be stripped of all they love by Richard and those ladies do make up the strong majority of those willing to openly defy Richard. The Duchess has spent so much of her life in living out expected duties of a wife, mother, and royal, but in the end, I think the Duchess is willing to put aside her long accepted expectations of her role of service to family in recognition of service to country.
Do you see a particular cultural relevance to the staging of Richard III today?
Jennifer Dzialoszynski: Absolutely. A selfish, egomaniacal, power-hungry tyrant who will do anything to get what he wants… now, where have I heard of this before? I think it’s so interesting, not only to watch the wrong-doings of Richard but to watch the people around him, those helping to put him in power. What is it that makes people choose sides? How many of your own morals can you compromise before you become part of the problem? I’m just hoping that there are enough Richmond-equivalents today to take the crown from off the heads of all the tyrants, whether they be presidents of countries or companies.
Suzette McCanny:It feels very relevant to me to be aware that the masses can overturn a greedy, charming, rotten leader. And also that we must watch out for that greed in ourselves because it is where our weakness lies. Every time Richard turns a character to his side it is because of their insatiable need for something. It is only when people stop choosing the individual over the whole that they are able to overpower Richard.
Catherine Rainville: Absolutely. Richard builds a world around him based on peoples’ fear and self-doubt. He garners loyalty by manipulation and an understanding that the foundations of the world are designed to protect him. He plays the game so well that he believes himself untouchable. This is the place that a lot of men in the world believe themselves to be. They are made invincible in the eyes of people around them who see no other way. Richard’s downfall feels very much like a personification of what’s happening in our culture now.
Shalyn McFaul: We can certainly see plenty of continued reference points in contemporary leaders who will pursue private interests above all. It is easy to look at the familial relations involved in the War of the Roses within Richard III, but our own political party allegiances and the inclination to turn a blind-eye to wrongdoing from within our own camp can be just as strong even without blood ties.
What are you most excited about for this production?
Jennifer Dzialoszynski: We have such a wonderful cast and team of people on this show. Showing up to work with all of them is such a privilege and a pleasure.
Suzette McCanny: I am excited to watch peoples’ reactions every night! To be right there with the beast that is this play every night as it lives and breathes.
Catherine Rainville: It’s a beast of a show. I am excited by the simplicity of the world that Julia has guided us to create and I think it really highlights how relevant this story is to our own reeling world.
Shalyn McFaul: I’m excited to work in this venue with a creative team that has shown time and again how well it can be used. I’ve had many experiences working in an alleyway/tennis court style stage before, but this space allows for an even greater intimacy and with the audience. I loved seeing BASH’d shows in this space before and I’m glad to explore its impact as a performer.
Thank you all for chatting with me! I can’t wait to see what you all have in store!
You can catch Richard III at The Monarch Tavern (12 Clinton St.) from February 6-11. Tickets are selling out fast so get them while you still can. Tickets are $20 online @ www.shakespearebashd.com and $25 at the door.
Showtimes: Tuesday, February 6 – 7:30pm
Wednesday, February 7 – 7:30pm
Thursday, February 8 – 7:30pm
Friday, February 9 – 7:30pm
Saturday, February 10 – 2:00pm
Saturday, February 10 – 7:30pm
Sunday, February 11 – 2:00pm