1) Shakespeare's RICHARD III at the Phoenix Theatre at UVIC marks a double swan-song for two members of the Theatre Dept. Can you tell us about that?
Director Giles Hogya is retiring as professor of theatre and dean of fine arts and this is his final production after 34 years at UVIC. Actor Trevor Hinton, who plays the evil King Richard, is graduating from the theatre dept. next spring after 8 mainstage appearances. For both Hogya and Hinton, this production gives them a showcase for their respective talents. Hogya creates a strong and focussed production that makes the George theatre into an arena with the audience sitting on all four sides so everyone is right in the thick of the action. He also uses every exit and entrance available in the theatre and has a large cast of over 25 actors who move in and out of characters and costumes to great effect. All this effort supports the central performance of Richard, one of Shakespeare's most famous villains, who Hinton plays as younger and more virile than we've come to expect from the stereotypical "hunchbacked toad"...this is a fit and vigorous fighter, only slightly physically disabled, who can't stand the idea of peace, so sets out ruthlessly to kill his way to the throne, even if it means murdering his own brother and nephews to get there. Hinton is a fine actor whose work has grown and grown over his time at the Phoenix, so this is a last chance to see him onstage there, although I feel we'll be seeing a lot more of him in the future!
2) What other aspects of the production stand-out for you?
Designer Allan Stichbury gives us his second set of the year at UVic and it is a kind of hard industrial-looking wrestling arena that makes us feel like we're in a very male and military world. The production is set in the present day, but is not clearly defined beyond that, so I did find myself wondering why sometimes the male aristocratic characters are in business suits and then move into military gear. In the present day, men in business suits do not fight wars, they send poor young men to do that for them. Hogya is an internationally known lighting designer so grad student Tim Herron's lighting, under his guidance, is a strong feature in the show, less so the intermittent synthesizer music. Many of the undergrad students give good performances, especially the senior acting students, but it is a mature law student, Christopher Mackie, who impresses most with his portrayal of Richard's partner in crime, Lord Buckingham. The most memorable sequence is the major battle scene near the end of the play, choreographed by Nicholas Harrison, that will have you cringing in your seat as the stage swarms with violent action.
3) The second play you saw was quite a contrast with this bloody-minded Shakespearean tragedy, ARTICHOKE at Langham Court Theatre.
Yes, it was somewhat of a relief to be put into the more traditionally female world of a woman's kitchen in a farm home outside of Raglan, Saskatchewan for this story of an alienated married couple and the man who returns to and shakes up their lives. This play was originally written and produced 30 years ago by Joanna Glass, who has since risen to prominence in both Canada (where she was born and grew up) and the U.S. (where she moved to long ago and still lives) for her wonderful plays and novels. Local theatregoers will remember her lovely play TRYING at the Belfry a couple of years ago.
4) And what was your response to this earlier play and this production?
The play is very engaging and tells an emotional tale about loving and forgiving. Wife and mother Margaret has banished her husband Walter to sleep in the smokehouse for the past 14 years, ever since an abandoned baby, fathered by Walter, was left on their doorstep. Margaret has raised the daughter Lily Agnes as her own and loves her, but she cannot forgive Walter for his infidelity, until she is tempted to it herself with the homecoming of a man she grew up with, Gibson. Caroline McKenzie and Jason Stevens as the feuding spouses do a fine job in their first appearances at Langham and are ably supported by the rest of the cast, especially John Gilliland as Gramps and Hannah Boutilier as the quirky Lily Agnes. The set is designed by sculptor Mowry Baden and works very well and is well-lit by Randy Poulis who also convincingly plays the prodigal son Gibson. The cast is rounded out by veterans Phil Gibbs and Drew Kemp who have lots of fun with their rustic narratorship of the play as Jake and Archie, farm neighbors of the troubled family. The Langham production, directed by veteran director and actor Judith McDowell tells the story faithfully and with energy, perhaps a bit too much energy at times as I felt some scenes and characterizations were less than subtle and tended towards being overplayed. But it is a difficult play in which to find the right balance as it has no subtext or secrecy whatever...every character wears his heart and his or her anger on their sleeve, everybody knows everybody's business at all times.
5) Is this a point of similarity with RICHARD III, which is full of so much court intrigue?
That is a strong connection between these two shows. In both, you feel like you are in two very different worlds, the royal court of 16th century England and the kitchen of a prairie farm, yet at all times you know what's going to happen, that there is a price to be paid for too much ambition, too much lust. Sometimes this is challenging for the audience, especially in Glass's play where we expect something more naturalistic and get a play that feels quite mythical in many ways, like it's larger than life. We expect larger than life with Shakespeare, though, and that's what we get with Richard when are left with the image of a haunted and ruined man, who even in his death throes is still reaching for the throne. Both dramatic tales are ones worth telling, and seeing.