The city's newest theatre company, Metachroma Theatre is Montreal's only independent theatre company of professional actors of colour; an important new addition to the local arts scene, contributing to the Canadian theatre landscape as a whole. They present their inaugural production, William Shakespeare's great history play, Richard III, from Sept. 19-30 at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, directed by Joel Miller. The production features some of Montreal's top actors, along with talented guest artists. The Segal Centre team is looking forward to this Metachroma Theatre production, kicking off a great season.
With one of world literature's most insidious and manipulative characters, Richard III is a powerful piece, as horrifying as it is fascinating. Shakespeare's timeless tragedy journeys through the psyche of one man who will stop at nothing to serve his ambition. Defined by his physical deformity and demonized by society, Richard is ever the outsider. In a whirlwind of horrible deeds and unspeakable acts, he fights to claim his position as monarch at all costs. For director Joel Miller, the play is one, inexorable, ceremonial journey to Richard's demise, a journey-sometimes fiercely comical-of death, betrayal and intrigue. It is a ritualistic cleansing of evil from the realm, the justifiable deposition of a tyrant who attained the throne by schemes, lies and murder.
Miller expounds, "Richard III is a portrait of a community reeling under the dictatorial thumbs of a parade of brutal kings and their lackeys. What is fascinating about Richard III is not simply the title character, but the others who, by complicity, indifference or fear, allow him to thrive and prosper."
For Miller, the play is extremely relevant, "Our era is well aware of the brutality and inhumanity of despotic political and social regimes. We have witnessed the Nazis and Fascists of Germany and Italy, the Stalinist regimes of the old Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, North Korea, the barbarous dictatorships of Pinochet in Chile, Marcos in the Philippines, Noriega in Panama, the apartheid regime in South Africa and right now, the horrors committed by Bashar al–Assad in Syria. If anybody wonders how these criminals come to power, Richard III can serve as a fearful lesson."
A recent trip to Lebanon delivered firsthand insight for Metachroma Theatre company member Jamie Robinson (Richard III), "Middle-Eastern society takes the importance of family blood lines very seriously, a major theme in Richard III. As well, bordering Syria, everyday discussions about 'the situation' were a constant reminder how a Richard III-type scenario is still being played out."
For company member Glenda Braganza, themes of appearances and the trappings of illusion resonate strongest, "To challenge perceptions or to bow to collective, preconceived notions is a choice that exists within us all. To exploit or to explore, to define or to defy, to revere or to revile- this is the joy of theatre. Here, the opportunity to watch a traditional piece of theatre performed by a non-traditional cast offers the chance to embrace and question what 'image' means to all of us."
That said, the play is highly entertaining and the company would like audiences to laugh. Richard announces his villainy right off the top of the play. He tells the audience what he is going to do, and they can watch with ironic delight, as he sets off to carry out his often ghastly task at hand. For Robinson, "As dark as some of the themes may be, Shakespeare does a magnificent job of allowing us to enjoy the machinations of Richard- don't be surprised if you find yourself having as much fun as Richard in attaining his never ending goal of supreme power."
Metachroma ('beyond colour') Theatre addresses the under-representation of visible minority actors in Canadian theatre, challenging current perceptions by telling stories with a diverse cast in order to normalize the presence of these artists on stage. Company member Tamara Brown would like nothing more than "to become irrelevant." The choice of Richard III for Metachroma Theatre's first production is inspired by these themes of perception raised in the play- Richard is defined by his appearance. The company hopes to inspire change of thought in artists, engagers and theatre goers alike about what is perceived as 'normal' in regards to race and ethnicity on stage. Audiences are asked to simply enjoy the telling of the story, with plot and theme unaffected by the physical traits of the artists. They invite audiences to make diversity of skin colour artistically viewed no differently than the diversity of hair or eye colour. Actor Meilie Ng (Marquess of Dorset) wants audiences to dive into the story of the play just like children do; regardless of the actors' colour, gender or age, "I recently played the role of Pinocchio and not one kid asked me why Pinocchio was Asian." It is only a matter of time until the dynamism of this country is truly reflected on its stages.