Review: No Holds Bard’s Richard III, Pulp Shakespeare

Friday night I attended the premier production of the newest Indianapolis theatre company: No Holds Bard. Presenting Shakespeare’s Richard III at the indyFringe Building in Indianapolis downtown, No Holds Bard delves into entertainment with a thesis. After reading company director Tristan Ross’ thesis statement on the No Holds Bard website, I have to admit I was a bit weary of the idea. Of course Shakespeare can be entertaining, there is no question there. But as Ross expounds (on the website) on his ideas about the duality of Richard Glouster, it seemed he defeated his own purpose of not making Shakespeare too heavy handed before he even got butts in seats. I am very happy to report that my expectations (though low at the onset) were exceeded and raised, as I look towards the next production by No Holds Bard.

Ross adapted the script to run a little over two hours with an intermission. In the explanation of his adaptation, he expresses his views on creating “minimal” and “deconstructed” theatre with a focus on the duality of Richard and the idea of ultra violence for the entertainment value. Essentially, Ross wants to create entertaining theatre that has a thesis: namely to highlight Richards dual personalities. Playing Richard Glouster himself, Ross presents the villain as a clown. The character that he creates is not a far cry from the same he played in the indyFringe production of Tortillo! this past summer.

Ross seems oddly suited to the maniacal lunatic, and he presented Richard as so. What is interesting in this choice is the way Ross brings his own clownish acting style to the part. As a man constantly castrated (metaphorically, of course) by the women around him, Richard is left no other option than to bend to their whims and insults. As females leave him lone on stage, Ross quickly transition from the bending sniveling idiot to the sizable and intimidating man that his stature brings to the role. He makes the transition with a flip of his hands and a twinkle in his eye likening him to a magician. Richard constantly wears masks to hide his plans; in an intelligent move, Ross makes these masks comical.

However, the downfall to Ross’ extremely enjoyable performance is his “choice” to rush through lines. The idea of Richard talking and scheming circles around his victims takes a literal form on stage in one scene as he and his henchmen threateningly encircle an ancillary character. But Ross’ choice to speak fast so Richard’s victims have no time to process and no choice but to agree translates all too easily to the audience missing key information and losing plot points. Though it could just have easily been nerves rather than a choice (I’m not sure that is an excuse), it defeats one of No Holds Bard’s key mission statements. If they plan to transcend the sad fact that “Shakespeare is the only author… considered a success if the audience leaves saying “I could understand all of the actors,” then they at least should land on top of this goal, not under it. In fact, it is safe to say that half the cast had a scene or two where inappropriate speech patterns kept the audience in the dark when it came to plot. This problem could have very easily been overlooked had programs with a brief plot synopsis been provided.

Luckily for No Holds Bard, half the cast could be understood. More than this, they understood Ross’ goals for the production. Stand out performances were given by Joshua Ramsey as Buckingham and Clarence, Carrie Schlatter as Queen Elizabeth and Hastings, David Pittman as Catesby and King Edward, and of course Tristan Ross as Richard Glouster. Ramsey, though smaller in stature than Ross, created just as large a caricature for his Buckingham. Schlatter had the most control over the language, giving her an edge to play with emotion in both her roles. Pittman was simply fun as the conniving henchman Catesby and showed range as he transitioned briefly into King Edward.

The Indianapolis event, Richard III, was pure camp at times, and I loved it. With clever and shocking death scenes, this new yet small Indianapolis theatre company proved that it can accomplish a lot with very little. Even the costumes, though low quality, were extremely thoughtful and helped move the show forward. No Holds Bard wears its “community-theatreness” as a badge of honor, putting more heart and soul than money into the project.

Though not necessarily fully achieved, their production of Richard III was extremely intelligent and adds to the fabric of Indianapolis entertainment this month. I look forward to seeing the next attempt from this newest Indianapolis performing arts group (hopefully with a more popcorn script from Shakespeare, where the audience by means cultural indoctrination comes in with prior knowledge of the plot). If audiences can keep an open mind about Shakespeare, and jump onto the wavelength created by No Holds Bard where fun is the name of the game, this show can be very enjoyable.

Head to the Indianapolis cultural district, Mass Ave, this month for No Holds Bard’s production of Richard III. Stay tuned to Fun City for all the latest on Indianapolis arts and other fun things to do in Indianapolis. Also check out our Indianapolis restaurant and Indianapolis bar listings as you plan your evening out in the Circle City.

Richard III
Now through January 24

indyFringe Building
719 E St. Clair Street
Indianapolis, IN