The Shakespeare Company is producing Richard III right now in the Vertigo Studio, and down the street at the Martha Cohen Theatre, Alberta Theatre Projects, in association with The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions is producing Teenage Dick, a modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s Richard III. It’s a lot of examination of the villainous king, who murdered and lied to get to the throne. In Teenage Dick, written by Mike Lew, Richard is in high school and is conspiring to get the position of student president. At first, it seems fairly low stakes. In Shakespeare’s text, the king orchestrates eight deaths. In this production, Richard is fully responsible for one death, but the atrocities he commits are darker and even more horrifying.
In this version, Richard Glouchester (Dylan Thomas-Bouchier) is a student of Rosedale High School. He wants to be student president, and take power away from current president Todd Houseman (Eddie Ivy) who is a good looking, popular member of the football team. Richard has a Machiavellian plan, that is outlined in English class by his teacher Elizabeth York (Anna Cummer). They discuss conquests by fortune and virtue, along with civil election and wickedness. Richard has a scheme that he shares partially with his audience, that includes not sharing with his best friend Buck Buckingham (Riki Entz), knocking Clarissa Duke (Emily Howard) out of the race, and getting Anne Margaret (Isabella Pederson) to fall for him.
This production is a bit shaky to begin with. There is nothing to take away from Thomas-Bouchier’s performance, because he is the perfect mix of hateful, psychotic villain with a dash of softness that keeps everyone around him guessing. The character hides behind his disability and presses all the right buttons of the people around him to get exactly what he wants. It’s mastery to watch both with Lew’s character development and Thomas-Bouchier’s embodiment. But at first, even though Peter Moller’s sound design is perfectly on point and set design Hanne Loosen captures the total high school feel, it just feels unsteady. Both Entz and Thomas-Bouchier stumble over their lines and Cummer’s first couple scenes are a little over the top. It’s like the production doesn’t find it’s groove until the introduction of Pederson. She bring this humanity and softness to the whole production. She shines in the scene where she reveals her struggles and her vulnerability is really something to behold. Both Elizabeth York and Clarissa Duke are over the top intentionally, but settle down in their hyperbole towards the end of the production. Both Cummer and Howard provide levity in a really dark production. Ivy is steady as Houseman, rendering Brianne Johnston’s fight direction really well. Entz’s lines come out a bit flat and rehearsed, even though the comedy is strong in their character. Their performance lacks emotion, which takes away from the foil their character is supposed to provide to Richard’s blind thirst for revenge.
The dance sequences in this production seem to come out of nowhere, though the second sequence fits the production nicely. There is also an aside, a time where Anne gets to take over the narrative, and I really wished Lew would have turned the entire story on its head.
Ajay Badoni’s lighting design gives the final scene an extra layer of horror along with Peter Moller’s sound design. They also bring to life things like Twitter feeds and a school assembly with only 5 artists on stage. Badoni makes an odd choice of purple overhead light when Richard and Anne are in the dance studio and it’s quite distracting. Ralamy Kneeshaw’s costume design is the finishing touch on the design on this production.
Director Jenna Rodgers skillfully handles the deeper meaning behind the production. Both Entz and Thomas-Bouchier have disabilities and the broader commentary on othering people with disabilities is not missed.
Lew’s script might lull you into a false sense of security. It’s funny and witty and there are some great lines and a handful of zingers that Rodgers brings to life. But it’s brutal and dark and sets your teeth on edge. There is no end to the horror of Richard’s character. You’ve been warned about this funny and brutal show.
Alberta Theatre Projects in association with The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions’ Teenage Dick runs until April 30th. More information is available online.
Photo Credit: Ben Laird Art & Photos.