It seems to be my lot in life – at least my Mooney on Theatre life – to review all things pertaining to Richard III. And they are many, very many, as of late. So many in fact, that I probably don’t need to reiterate the plot of Shakespeare’s history play.
I went into Glasswater Theatre’s opening night of The Queens at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse thinking that I was going to see an in-depth look at the women of Shakespeare’s Richard III. This may have been a mistake on my part.
My show partner, Alyssa, and I took a moment as we were waiting for the play to start to take in our surroundings and to discuss our experience with the story of Richard Plantagenet. For my part, I had studied the story extensively in my last year of university. For Alyssa, this would be her first time encountering the story and the characters.
The Queens plays out on a stage with a small tree trunk in the centre of a playing space almost entirely surrounded by audience. The lighting and sound designs are simple but the audience is immersed in them as soon as they enter the space before the show begins.
As I watched the show, I could only think of the following three things: 1. The storyline is a bit confusing and very different from Shakespeare’s version of events. While this is perfectly acceptable and somewhat refreshing, I couldn’t help wondering how history-play-newbie Alyssa was faring with the plot. 2. Tina Sterling, as Queen Margaret Anjou, stole every scene she was in with her revitalized and often comical portrayal of the bitter, crazed widow. And 3. The show itself did not benefit from having an audience on either side of the playing space.
As we left the theatre, I was still sorting through the plot and character progression when I heard Alyssa say, “Wait… so what just happened? Which one of them was lying?” Norman Chaurette’s text is beautiful, poetic and extremely layered. While this made it difficult to follow the timeline leading up to King Edward’s death, I thought director Mairin Smit made a noble attempt at conveying the rich and tragic story of these six women’s lives in a never-ending cycle of power, loss and despair.
While I was lost at times, the beauty of the women’s movement and the depth of their emotion made the hour and a half incredibly captivating. I also have to applaud Smit’s ability to find humour in the incredibly dark subject matter.
If you’re a history buff or just a history play buff, The Queens is definitely worth a watch. Or two.
– The Queens is playing until Sunday, September 18th at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse (79 St. George Street)
– Performances are at 8:00 pm Thursday through Saturday with a 2:00 p.m. matinee on Sunday
– Tickets are available 30 minutes before the show at the door (cash only)
– Tickets are between $15.00 and $20.00
Photo of Jenna Turk, Tina Sterling and Carolyn Grace Hall