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The Barter Blog

Shakespeare's "Richard III" review by Bonny Gable

April 20, 2018

Power is not given to you. Power is something you take! This famous adage is Richard the Third’s mantra as he connives his way to the coveted throne he has been denied. Barter Theatre’s innovative rendition of his tale of treachery is a chilling ride that shakes you to the core as he unleashes his madness in pursuit of the crown.

Upon entering the theatre you find yourself in a setting that beckons “Beware!” Lights cast ominous shadows on ghostly black and gray. Steps, ladders and ramps lead to multiple stages scattered throughout on unexpected levels. The detritus of struggle is strewn all around. The space that has the feel of a spent battleground with you seated in its midst, planted right in the thick of it.

You are instantly riveted as the players enter to perform a concise summary of the plot. They give you a road map for the labyrinth of royals, nobles, murders and lies to come that prepares you for the journey into the dark abyss that is the twisted mind of a forsaken would-be king. Suddenly Richard appears from the darkness. He delivers his opening speech in an eerily quiet but intense voice seething with resentment, inspiring an unlikely sympathy for himself. He has already ensnared you in his web of deceit! Then his slippery, silver tongue begins to perform its black magic.

This vile chameleon slides fluidly from charmer to commandant to pious soul as suits his purpose, completely deceiving everyone. Then in quick reversals he promptly disposes of them. We never see it coming, but shudder when he reveals his insanity in “private” moments shared only with the audience. He is like a ringmaster conducting a foul, bizarre circus.

Lighter moments surprise us as well. Shakespeare’s awareness of human foibles provides humorous scenes — such as the bumbling murderers in the Tower of London deciding if their deed will damn them, and whether they even care –that provide a respite of mirth.

Director Katy Brown has hit all of her marks. She promised a visceral and enthralling experience and she has delivered in spades. Action flows seamlessly with focus always directed exactly where it should be. Pacing is thrilling, tight and enticing with unexpected staging that keeps us engaged with every peak and valley. The execution of Clarence is one of the most simply ingenious but chillingly effective murders ever witnessed onstage.

Andrew Hampton Livingston in the title role brings a unique and creative interpretation to the duplicitous charlatan. He skillfully captures the complexity of Richard’s deranged thirst for power as well as his rare moments of vulnerability. It is no small feat to maintain a twisted physical posture while playing a vast range of emotional states, but Livingston does it with conviction.

An ensemble of six actors completes the cast. All give amazing performances portraying a multitude of characters, each given a specific physicality to make it crystal clear who is who throughout the performance. Diction, rhythm, and melody of the speeches are superb, providing absolute clarity at every turn.

Sean Maximo Campos displays immense range as the trusting Clarence, the betrayed Buckingham, and the victorious Richmond. Campos does extra duty as fight choreographer, providing a crowning glory finale in a spectacular battle scene. There is nothing quite like the visceral thrill of hand-to-hand combat, and this scene is a superb, exciting, and sensational fighting to the death.

Kim Morgan Dean is captivating as she plays a stunning Lady Ann then later a forceful Hastings. Tricia Matthews expertly plays a king with a heart, a gullible Lord Mayor, and the stern, bitter mother of Richard. Paris Bradstreet is steady and true as the sorrowful Queen Elizabeth, but swings effortlessly to play a convincing comrade of Richard’s. Mary Lucy Bivins delights as always playing an innocent young prince, the wronged Lord Rivers, a bishop, and many more. Hannah Ingram as Margaret is the epitome of a woman scorned, but also shines as a lively child and a sweet princess.

Derek Smith’s ingenious set design facilitates flow of the perpetually unexpected – you never know where action will pop up on small stages that accentuate characters

caught in a tight spot. Lighting design by Camille Davis employs effective focus, levels of intensity, and shadows that support every move and provide a visual wave upon which the action rides.

Lee Alexander Martin’s costumes, in muted shades of gray and black, give a sense of period yet also of timelessness. Color makes a rare appearance in some shade of red – appropriate in a story where blood flows repeatedly. Straps and buckles provide adornment (echoes of straightjackets, perhaps?) with occasional touches of fur against the British chill. Sound designer Tony Angelini’s spare underscoring of ominous drumbeats echo the pounding of our hearts, and understated sound effects grip us with a chilling effect.

Barter’s Richard III is fresh, fascinating and as relevant as ever. Shakespeare reminds us what can happen when leadership’s desire for power and glory is all consuming, with fake news, conspiracy theories and empowerment slogans used to manipulate the populace. We are fortunate to have the wisdom of the Bard played out in this exceptional production that is not to be missed.

“Shakespeare’s Richard III” runs through May 5.

For tickets and information: 276-628-3991 or