by Michelle Barker
Crookback is a look at the well-known story of murderous King Richard of Gloucester. Richard, notorious for murdering all those who were blocking his path to the throne of England, is one of Shakespeare’s most vilified characters. In Welham’s adaptation, we see the action of the play through Richard’s point of view. And there is no point of view that’s scarier or more disturbing.
I’ve reviewed Richard III before for Mooney on Theatre and I’ve said that it is my favourite Shakespeare play of all time. Obviously this made Crookback my ideal Sunday night outing for the week. I went to Unit 102 with my show partner, Kate, prepared for the usual interpretation of the story.
Welham starts the play with the oft-quoted soliloquy, “Now is the winter of our discontent…”, much to my delight. As he moved through the opening speech, I began to wonder if the show was going to differ from the original text at all. My question was soon answered as Welham began moving through Shakespeare’s scenes… playing 10 or more characters. I’ll admit that I shifted uncomfortably in my chair for a moment and felt Kate do the same as Welham bounced back and forth between character voices and statures for the first scene. But, my fears were soon put to rest.
Welham shows an incredibly deep understanding of the text and creates a world so vivid that it is almost impossible not to get submerged in the story. It is almost as though the audience is watching 15 different actors on the stage in front of them. The versatility that Welham displays throughout the show is unlike anything that I’ve ever seen onstage. That, combined with his ability to effortlessly portray the meaning of Shakespeare’s text, makes the show incredibly easy to follow. Kate, who mentioned that she wasn’t as familiar with the text as I was before this show, said that she followed the plot easily, even in scenes with multiple characters.
I can’t rave enough about the product of Megan Watson’s directing and Welham’s performance. Together, they turn an incredibly complex history play into an 80-minute, high-energy ride. I can’t help but think that Welham must be completely exhausted by the end of each performance; he maintains an absurdly high energy for the duration of the play, almost buzzing in certain scenes, and gets progressively better as the show pushes forward.
A standout scene for me was the ghost scene near the play’s climax. With an incredible soundscape by Sound Designer, Kendra Welham, the depth of Richard’s descent is perfectly portrayed to the audience through chilling vocal performances overlapping in an ominous fashion. It’s a very unique interpretation of the scene and the gamble totally paid off.
If I were to have any complaints at all, I would have to say that Welham’s performances of the female characters were a bit too comical and cartoonish for me in certain scenes. However, in the rare moments when the stakes dropped, they were quickly raised again by Richard’s presence in each scene.
I also have to note the simple but incredibly effective set design by Chris Penna. Crookback’s stage is a simple black set scattered with candles and chalk drawings all over the walls. My favourite aspect of the design was the ‘kill list’ scrawled on the walls off of which Richard would scratch names as he committed his brutal murders.
I don’t know how many ways I can say ‘see this play’, but whether you’re a lover of Shakespeare or just a lover of high-energy murder stories, Crookback shouldn’t be missed.
– Crookback is playing at Unit 102 (46 Noble Street) until May 15.
– Shows run Thursday through Sunday at 8pm
– Tickets are $15 (cash only, limited seating)
– Tickets are available at the door 30 minutes prior to show. You can reserve tickets by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo of Tim Welham