Virtually Richard 3

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts (Expressions Dance Company)


Choreographed by Maggie Sietsma

Professional production

The 8th World Shakespeare Congress, coinciding with the 2006 Brisbane Festival, has meant that Brisbane audiences have had the opportunity recently to see a number of exciting and innovative performances taking various approaches to Shakespeare’s plays.

The plays have always lent themselves to re-interpretation and have been transformed into operas, ballets, musicals and films, with varying success. Maggie Sietsma’s treatment of Richard III for Expressions Dance Company has met with great interest wherever it has toured, and it is appropriate that Brisbane audiences should have had the opportunity to see it again in the context of a wider celebration of Shakespeare’s genius. It is good to see that it still impresses as a powerful piece.

This is not a faithful, scene-by-scene reproduction of Shakespeare’s play in dance. Instead, it focuses on communicating the major themes, images and emotional moments of the play, allowing us to see the rise and fall of a fascinating monster. The Richard of this piece is one who is implicit in Shakespeare’s text, but never so convincingly embodied as in Dan Crestani’s writhing, twitching, spitting, synthesis of evil.

Watching their distillation of the play, it is very clear that all those involved in the conception of the piece, the choreography, the choice of music, and the performance, are well steeped in Shakespeare’s Richard III: its characters, power struggles and harrowing emotions. Experiencing their interpretation sends one back to the text with renewed interest which is what every exciting performance of a Shakespeare play should do.

It is the four women in the company who are used to display the cruelly destructive aspects of Richard’s character, and their performances are extraordinarily moving. Sally Wicks, in the role of Queen Margaret, is a powerhouse of energy as she furiously attacks Richard and later, as the Duchess of York, excoriates her hateful son. Emily Amisano magically transforms the grieving Lady Anne into Richard’s mesmerised victim who seems to foresee her fate even as she succumbs to his will. The young Elizabeth, whom Richard plans to use to shore up his position as king, is shown in all her vulnerability and terror by Lizzie Chittleborough, while Megan Futcher’s anguish as Queen Elizabeth is almost unbearable to watch as she stumbles and flounders in her hopeless search for her lost sons.

Ryan McMillan (substituting for an injured Ryan Males), Justin Rutzou (taking on Males’ role as Edward IV), Jason Northam and Zaimon Vilmanis fill in the minor roles. McMillan’s Clarence was appropriately pathetic in the violent murder scene, while Vilmanis and Northam met the challenge of metamorphosing convincingly from the playful innocence of the two young princes to the menace of Richard’s depraved henchmen. Both men and women formed a chorus that reflected and commented on the action throughout the play, maintaining the forward movement of the plot while further embodying the charged emotions engendered by the major characters.

But, of course, the play is Richard’s, and so is this production. In Shakespeare’s text Richard is likened to a toad, a spider, a rutting hog and various other repellent creatures. Dan Crestani gives us all these and more. His movement is at times fluid and sinuous, at others twitching and convulsive. Displaying the involuntary tics of Tourette ‘s syndrome, he jerks and prances, confronts and threatens. His Richard is mercurial, switching from devious dreamer to skilful seducer, from louche corrupter to malicious tormentor.

It is a captivating performance in which Crostani gives us a monster drunk with self conceit, delighting in showing his villainy to an audience, yet contemptuous of our opinion. As he struts, pounces, insinuates and manipulates we recognise the inescapable power of his will. Eventually we come to identify with Lady Anne, recognising how she can be at the same time repelled and attracted, disgusted yet aroused.

This version of Richard III is fascinating for a number of reasons, not the least being that it chooses to concentrate on Richard’s effect on the women whose lives he destroys. The strong performances by the female dancers, bouncing off the virtuosity of Crostani and supported generously by the other male dancers, makes this piece a triumph. As always, the soundtrack devised by Abel Valls is evocative and compelling, while the deceptively simple set by Nahum Szumer is inventively used and lit.

It may be some time before we have the opportunity to see this work again. Those of us lucky enough to see it this time around will find it hard to forget.

Playing until 21 July 2006

Running time: 74 minutes (no interval)

— Maureen Strugnell
(Performance seen: Tue 18th July 2006)