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3 out of 4 stars

Richard III

  • Written by William Shakespeare
  • Directed by Miles Potter
  • Starring Seana McKenna
  • At the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ont.

Play at a glance: Now is the winter of our discontent made… Oh, you know this one. The jealous, ambitious hunchback Gloucester schemes and murders his way past several Plantagenets to sit on the English throne as Richard III. In Miles Potter's production, the unorthodox twist is that Richard is played by an actress – in this case, Stratford favourite Seana McKenna.

First impression: In a hideous, balding wig and with a sizable hump on her back, McKenna plays a two-dimensional but entertaining Richard – a gleeful, hissing goblin with bright eyes revelling in all manners of villainy, yet still able to assume a false face when necessary. Potter's production treats this history play as a morality play and fairly straight-forwardly allows good to slowly triumph over evil. This is certainly a fresh take on the play, but also one I'm looking forward to sleeping on.

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Highlights: The first half is excellent, schadenfreude-filled fun. McKenna excels in her wicked wooing of Lady Anne (Bethany Jillard), who showcases supreme command of her saliva as she smacks Richard right in the face with a well-aimed gob of spit. Michael Spencer-Davis is a very sympathetic Clarence; his pleading with the two murderers sent by his brothers is magnificent. Crisp, clean acting across the board, but particularly from Yanna McIntosh as Queen Elizabeth, Roberta Maxwell as Richard's mother, and Nigel Bennett as Hastings.

The nitpicks: As the play progresses, it seems to lose its energy – and McKenna's performance hits a wall when Richard's mind begins to be mixed up and he comes up against with his conscience. Potter's production ultimately favours clarity over flavour – and the gasping ghosts of Richard's victims at the end don't have the haunting effect no doubt intended.

Audience's instant reaction: All hail the King. Or Queen. Or whatever.

Critic's instant reaction: Three stars ( rating subject to change - for full review, see Saturday's Globe and Mail)

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