Bloody Great Theatre: SIR’s Richard III


Reviewed by Michelle Palansky

Gleeful villainy. Debbie Patterson’s Richard III is practically buoyant with delight in his vicious words and horrible deeds. And Richard is terrible indeed. Before intermission, he executes his brother, kills the Queen’s brother and son, disposes of a former supporter, and betroths himself to his slain enemy’s widow. Arguably Shakespeare’s most villainous character, Patterson keeps the audience deeply invested in Richard’s diabolical machinations through powerful rhetoric and great, personal charm. A sinful delight, Debbie Patterson’s Richard III is so utterly wrong in every possible way and it feels so damn right.

Richard the 3rd preformed by Shakespeare In The Ruins

Debbie Patterson as Richard III

Billed as “one of the first times (if not THE first time) in Canada that a bona fide disabled person play(s) this famously disabled villain,” Debbie Patterson has MS and walks with two crutches. Leading up to opening night, my expectation was that her disability would inform and enrich the character. Something entirely different transpired. Many portrayals of Richard III magnify his disabilities. A large part of the laurels awarded to any actor who takes on the Duke of Gloucester depend upon their ability to mold and hold their body to portray his deformities. Not so with Patterson. Because Patterson’s disability is not performative it seems to disappear unless deliberately foregrounded in order to manipulate and confound his multitude of enemies. Completely unexpected and deeply fascinating.

The success of Shakespeare in the Ruin’s (SIR) production of Richard III, and it is a grand success, is due in large part to Patterson’s work, but also owes much to an incredibly talented supporting cast.

Andrew Cecon is a stand-out as Richard’s brother Clarence. After his brutal execution via stabbing and drowning, Clarence arises again as a spectre. The intimacy, the vulnerability, and the palpable sorrow that Cecon brings to the scene is unforgettable.

Substantial female characters figure large in Richard III. Tracey Nepinak is bone-chilling, casting her curse as the ex-Queen Margaret. Tragic and graceful and complex, Toni Reimer convincingly plays Lady Anne, an astonishingly complicated lady who agrees to marry King Richard, literally, over the slain and oozing body of her former father-in-law. Arresting in her mourning, Cherissa Richards’s Queen Elizabeth is stumbling and deeply pathetic. And the heroin-addict nerviness of Sarah Constible’s Ratcliffe is a bundle of obsequious, kinetic energy.

Comic relief rests in the eminently able hands of Arne MacPherson and Toby Hughes as the Murderers. And although it takes him several scenes to really warm up, Omar Alex Khan is convincing and surprisingly agile, climbing up and down the monastery walls in his bid to manipulate the city leaders into supporting Richard’s bid for the crown.

Two hours and twenty minutes with a twenty minute intermission flies by thanks to the masterful pacing set by director Christopher Brauer. He creates some truly haunting and heart-breaking images for this production. The two slain brothers wrapped in burlap are almost too tragic to bear. Expect modern dress, modern weapons, and a really clever device for transporting Richard III around the monastery grounds.

After intermission, the second half is a bit of a let-down but it is mercifully short. And what can you do? By this point all the gleeful villainy has been drained out of the story and what remains is the victorious uprising of the virtuous Richmond, soon-to-be crowned King Henry VII.

High body count and low morals—SIR’s Richard III is bloody great theatre.

SIR’s Richard III runs from June 2 through June 25 at the Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park in Winnipeg. Tickets are available through Prairie Theatre Exchange’s box office at 204.942.5883 or via their website.

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Stage and Craft

Michelle Palansky

Michelle Palansky, an alumna of the University of Manitoba's Black Hole Theatre, is a Winnipeg Fringe veteran with a decade of experience writing and performing with her theatre collective, the Conspiracy Network. A former Manitoba Theatre for Young People instructor, she is the marketing manager for Turnstone Press.