William Shakespeare’s historical dramas aren’t known for their humour, but perhaps they should be. What’s funny about a man so evil he kills half his extended family to gain power? Nothing. But nonetheless it’s a bloody barrel of laughs.
Metachroma is a new theatre company in Montreal which seeks to transcend issues of race within the theatre. Mike Payette, a graduate of Concordia and one of Metachroma’s founders said that the company would provide “an opportunity for actors of colour to come together on the same stage, without needing a reason.”
For their debut, Metachroma put on a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III, directed by Concordia theatre professor Joel Miller, which runs until Sept. 30.
Historical dramas are not for everyone because they can be dense and hard to swallow even when performed by such a lively and engaging cast of actors. In this case, the team at Metachroma did admirably, tackling a challenging show, keeping it light-hearted, and managing to hold the audience’s attention for the majority of the two and a half hour production.
Richard III tells the story of a man, deformed at birth and in line for the throne of England, who uses devious means and unsavory underlings to eliminate those who stand between himself and the crown. Richard, it seems, is bad to the core and has zero problems ordering the violent murders of his brothers, his wife, his nephews and pretty much anyone else who challenges him.
Jamie Robinson, another Concordia graduate, was an absolute highlight as King Richard. He managed to be extremely likable even while scheming, plotting and murdering. His delivery was very funny and fast-paced, giving a refreshing twist to the complex language. He had an incredible energy about him which really helped the audience connect with him during his performance.
Lucinda Davis, who played – among other things – Lady Anne, was also a hit. She displayed a level of conviction which can be difficult to achieve with Shakespeare and displayed a remarkable range of emotions and characters from start to finish.
The overall feel of the play was positive though some of the design aspects could have used more attention to detail. The plain yellow-washed backdrop was at once conveniently neutral and overly plain. There was a beautiful golden wire sculpture of a castle suspended from the ceiling of the theatre, which I appreciated very much, but it would have been nice to see that level of creativity throughout the set.
The same applies to the costumes. King Richard’s multiple costumes, and the Duke of Buckingham’s clothing, were well-chosen and fitting for the part. Other costumes, however, such as those which appeared on more minor characters were ill-fitting. It felt like a hodge podge which lacked adequate funding and esthetic design overall.
In the end, Metachroma’s mission was to create a piece of theatre that would make the audience forget about issues of race and just take in the performance as it is. Payette said they wanted to put forward a “very honest portrayal of the play,” that would “challenge the perception of race onstage,” and that they did. The diversity of the cast proved only a strength in assembling such a talented group, and though the visuals may have been bare-bones, the quality of performance exceeded my expectations.
Richard III runs Sept. 19-30 at the Segal Centre with tickets starting at $18.