Review: Richard the III (Shakespeare in the Ruff)

Shakespeare in the Ruff presents the Bard’s classic play Richard the III outdoors in Toronto’s Winthrow Park

8 - Jacklyn Francis as Prince, Alex McCooeye as RichardShakespeare in the Ruff is a great venue to bring your picnic blanket, your discreet drinks, maybe your kids, and enjoy a polished and vibrant interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s classics. This year the offering is Richard the III, one of the earliest instances of a villain protagonist.

I arrived at the show in a fairly foul mood and, because of some of the circumstances of my rough day, had no companion and no blanket or camp chair to sit on. I was not looking forward to having to be there. But once the show started I was quickly distracted from my personal worries.

The show opens with a musical guest. The night that I was there it was a very charming guy named James Clarke. Opening the show with a musical performance also allows latecomers to seat themselves without compromising the action of the play. It’s a great idea, but since I was there for the theatre I wasn’t really captivated until Richard the III (Alex McCooeye) made his entrance with the famous opening line “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.”

I was wondering how they’d play Richard in this production. Historically, the character has often been depicted with a hunchback; a prosthetic which would be pretty tasteless these days. However, it is in the script that Richard is “deformed” and I think Shakespeare in the Ruff did a decent job dealing with it. McCooeye is a very tall man, which is not a trait one would expect in a Richard, and he played the part with a bent gait and one hand in a perpetual fist, hidden inside a black glove.

He also had an idiosyncratic tic with his head that was as charming as it was malevolent. I feel like he captured a really difficult character, not just depending on physical quirks, but integrating them into a Richard that was scarily likeable.

One of the known problems in presenting Shakespeare, or any classic theatre, is the portrayal of women. It’s hard to accept Richard’s successful wooing of Anne, whose father and husband he has murdered. But both Anne (played by Charlie Gould) and Richard’s mother (played by Diane D’Aquila, a Stratford regular who also directed this year’s Shakespeare In The Ruff) practically steal the whole show in a scene where they condemn the treacherous king.

By the final third, the children in the audience were definitely getting tired and cranky, but their parents dealt with them well, and that’s just part of the package of theatre in a park. It’s a great opportunity to expose young ones to classic theatre – but if you do bring your kids, be prepared to talk to them afterwards about such topics as murder, particularly the murder of children.

These next three words are going to hurt me to write: summer’s almost over. Take advantage of the opportunity to hang out in a park while it lasts, and if you want to do so while also experiencing an excellent Shakespeare production, you have until September 1st.


Photo of Jacklyn Francis and Alex McCooeye provided by the company