Thursday, September 20, 2018

“Richard III” – Fascistic (and Oddly Funny)

Sarah Harlett and Suzanne Bouchard in Richard III (HMMM Productions)
Richard III
Seattle Shakespeare Company
And upstart crow collective
(at Seattle Rep)
Through October 7, 2018

15 black-clad determined women have overtaken Shakespeare’s Richard III this week, as Rosa Joshi and upstart crow collective combine their vision of all-female Shakespeare productions with Seattle Shakes. They’re finally tackling the play that finishes off their histories of Henry IV (Parts 1, 2, and 3 which they combined into a two-part Bring Down the House in 2017).

It must be said, first!, that Sarah Harlett is a masterful, powerful and sinister Richard III! She commands every scene she is in and infuses the whole piece with sly scheming that is actually…FUNNY. Dark, sinister and funny. It’s not funny that Richard blithely murders massive amounts of kinspeople, and that Shakespeare lays at Richard’s feet the slaying of his young nephews King Edward V and brother Richard in the Tower of London (though to this day no one is sure what happened).

But there is almost a glee in how Harlett’s Richard rises from sixth in line to the throne to King. It’s a macabre comedy, at that point.
This period of real history is at the end of the War of the Roses (1455-87), a period of turmoil over who deserved the English crown. The War of the Roses is actually just a moment past The Hundred Years War (1337-1453) which was mostly about England trying to take over France. Of course, this war was also fought among cousins, since nobles of France had married English and vice versa. The clear aim was in securing power and money.

The thrill of the production is really due to all the strong, powerful women who strut and proclaim and connive and scheme. The strong cast is full of the talented women of our city.

Joshi, as director, has also created an amazing set design with Shawn Ketchum Johnson that uses large wires regularly stretched skyward at an angle, anchored by disguised box-drums, and often used as percussive instruments. It’s a completely unique and powerful design. Aimee Zoe is the primary musician (and onstage ensemble), though there is also some additional sound design by Meghan Roche and Robertson Witmer.

Richard III is a very, very bloody play. A huge amount of people, more than almost any other single play, it seems, in Shakespeare’s histories, are simply murdered. Very fast. Especially fast with the compression needed to cut this play down to a short-ish two and a quarter hours.

Joshi’s focus for this production is clearly to equate Richard to Hitler and fascism. Harlett is on the short side and her minions obey her with blind obedience (and a little bribery). The generic black costuming (created in a sparse utilitarian design by Christine Tschirgi) allows for courtiers to become soldiers with almost no change needed.

The Duke of Buckingham (played regally by Suzanne Bouchard) supports Richard for a good measure of time, yet seems unaware of how her complicity in terrible murders might end up boomeranging back on her. It’s no surprise to the audience when Buckingham also dies. Politics, often, has loyalty going in one direction – an aspect we are learning quite well, now.

For more information, go to or call 206-733-8222. 

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