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William Shakespeare's

Richard II – 2023

May 23rd - September 28thTom Patterson TheatreTicket Info
Generally Positive Reviews based on 9 Critics
  • bottom 22% of shows in the 2023 season
9 Reviews

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The New York Times - Jesse Green

The problem is the cultural metaphor

“As conceived and directed by Jillian Keiley — with interpolations from “Troilus and Cressida,” “Coriolanus,” “Much Ado” and the sonnets — the tragedy of the 14th-century English king has been phantasmagorically transported to Studio 54-era New York as a celebration of what a program note calls queer Black “divinity.” So Hotspur is a coked-up club kid and, yes, there’s oral sex in a hot tub. AIDS gets what seems to me to be a gratuitous cameo.

The problem certainly isn’t the queer part of the mission statement. Many productions have explored the suggestion in the text that Richard (Stephen Jackman-Torkoff) and his cousin Aumerle (Emilio Vieira) were lovers, and that their connection helped lead to the king’s downfall in a court that would have seen that relationship as a sign of his unfitness. And surely in the age of “Bridgerton” we’re excited rather than scandalized by the casting of Black actors in roles previously played only by white ones.

The problem is the cultural metaphor that Keiley and Brad Fraser, who did the adaptation, have chosen to superimpose on a history play. The first of a tetralogy telling the “sad stories of the death of kings,” “Richard II” is fundamentally about personal flaws that become political disasters. Celebrating those flaws as fabulousness confuses the issue whichever way you look at it. Was Richard a martyr to a movement in the future? Does the ecstasy of gayness make for bad governance?

It did not help, on the Patterson’s extraordinarily long and narrow thrust, with audiences banked closely on three sides, that the actors were staged so densely and busily you often could not grasp what was going on.”

[Note: this review is part of a collection in the CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK]

Read Full Review08/29/2023

Our Theatre Voice - Joe Szekeres


“A ballsy adaptation that smacks hard. It sometimes stings as it rightly should, but it will be remembered…

[Jillian] Keiley’s direction is consistently electrifying. She and [Brad] Fraser have made excellent choices to capture the vivid reality of a flamboyantly harsh and risky homoerotic lifestyle that never remains stagnant. For one, the dramatic choice to include The Angel Army remains most appropriately wise. Richard’s unwavering belief in the Divine Right of Kings provides him with an unshakable sense of salvation, despite his visible decline before the audience.”

Read Full Review07/18/2023

The Beacon Herald - Bruce Urquhart

Unbridled Punk Energy

“This King Richard, a queer man who must still bow to the protocols of the monarchy, is conflicted and unsure, despite his overconfident facade.

Much of this adaptation’s success, of course, hinges on Jackman-Torkoff’s dynamic performance as the doomed Richard…

Bolstering this production’s performances are the inspired set design by Michael Gianfrancesco and fabulous costumes by Bretta Gerecke.”

Read Full Review06/22/2023

The Slotkin Letter - Lynn Slotkin

Turns Shakespeare’s Play on its Ear

“Brad Fraser’s adaptation is liberal in borrowing speeches from other Shakespeare plays—Troilus and Cressida; the sonnets and my favourite line from Much Ado About Nothing is included here…

So yes, liberties are taken but this is a deliberate brash adaptation, conceived by director Jillian Keiley, and adapted by Brad Fraser, one of our most iconoclastic, perceptive playwrights, that turns Shakespeare’s play on its ear, but is still true to it, in its way.”

Read Full Review06/27/2023

Stratford Today - Geoff Dale

Magically Thought-Provoking

“Jackman-Torkoff’s Richard, as seen by Fraser as a king who believes he has the God-given right to live above the law, owns every inch of the accommodating and effectively designed Patterson stage, proudly strutting about one moment, only to shrivel seconds later into a shattered and demoralized man designed to meet his fate in a crumpled, lonely heap.

In spite of his obvious flaws, the 2023 version of Richard is transformed by Jackman-Torkoff into an emotionally distraught, defeated ruler near the end of his life and a man worthy of at least some sympathy.”

Read Full Review06/20/2023

The Globe and Mail - Glenn Sumi

Electric Performance by Jackman-Torkoff

“This is probably the first Stratford production of a Shakespeare play that begins with a full-on disco number, complete with sexy, strutting choreography (by Cameron Carver) and a crowd-surfing king who – decked out in white ruffles, pearls and platform shoes – seems less monarch than monarch butterfly…

In this adaptation, it also makes little sense for the Bishop of Carlisle, played with stern power by Steve Ross, to support Richard. Wouldn’t the church turn away from this version of the king? And an AIDS subplot featuring characters we barely know feels like an afterthought; if only we could follow these characters and see how they fared in Reagan’s world.

Still, there’s no denying the electric performance by Jackman-Torkoff in the lead role.”

Read Full Review06/20/2023

Ontario Stage - Kelly Monaghan

Playwright’s Vision O’erthrown

“Not since Max Bialystok mounted Springtime For Hitler has a playwright’s vision been so royally o’erthrown…

Fraser has simply thrown out long stretches of text. Most egregiously, he has cut one of the most iconic speeches in the entire canon, Gaunt’s jingoistic paean to “this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

Why slog through a few pages of Shakespeare when you can watch big sweaty mens, stripped to the waist and smeared with oil, engage in a vague approximation of mixed martial arts?”

Read Full Review06/23/2023

Stage Door - Christopher Hoile

Brad Fraser’s Richard II

“People who are thinking of seeing Richard II at Stratford should know that they will be seeing Brad Fraser’s Richard II, not Shakespeare’s.

If Fraser’s adaptation helped us understand Shakespeare’s play better, it might be worthwhile. Fraser’s adaption helps us understand only Fraser’s agenda of depicting Richard II as gay, not Shakespeare’s of depicting Richard II as God’s flawed deputy on earth. Jillian Keiley’s production is probably one of the most bizarre any history play at Stratford has received.”

Read Full Review06/19/2023

The Toronto Star - Karen Fricker


“Brad Fraser’s adaptation is as expert as it is provocative and Keiley’s staging is electric, full of striking set pieces amongst pacy scenes.

Leading a terrific cast, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff gives an electrifying performance as the self-indulgent, non-stop charismatic Richard, who is tragically ill-suited for his role as monarch.”

Read Full Review06/19/2023

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