During the course of a roughly 80-minute performance of Shakespeare’s Villains, Ric Reid, a veteran of the Shaw Festival, called for his line about 10 times.

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During the course of a roughly 80-minute performance of Shakespeare’s Villains, Ric Reid, a veteran of the Shaw Festival, called for his line about 10 times.

This ShakespeareFest production from Ontario’s Krakt Theatre has a flying-by-the-seat-of-its-pants quality, not just from Reid’s inability to do the material off-book. (On the opening night Wednesday, lighting cues seemed like afterthoughts.)

Ric Reid's grasp of the script seemed tenuous on opening night. (Supplied)

Ric Reid's grasp of the script seemed tenuous on opening night. (Supplied)

Director (and former Winnipegger) Kelly Daniels had to scramble to find a home for this show after losing its berth at the King’s Head Pub (which the program still lists as the location). The Saddlery on Main may lack the King’s Head’s atmosphere of homely, beer-soaked grunge, but it has the all-important quality of feeling like the kind of establishment where an actor — in the immediate proximity of both Royal MTC’s John Hirsch Mainstage and the Tom Hendry Warehouse — might go loudly off on the subject of the Bard and his most colourful cads.

This particular rogue’s gallery was assembled by actor-playwright Steven Berkoff, who carved out a villainous specialty for himself in the late 1980s in films such as Beverly Hills Cop and Rambo. Berkoff’s acting experience was largely nurtured on the English stage, where he got to know Shakespeare’s characters intimately, either by playing them or watching the work of master interpreters such as Sir Laurence Olivier.

The show then is a perhaps-too-freewheeling meditation on some of the great bad guys, starting with Iago from Othello, whom Berkoff classifies as a "mediocre" villain, effortlessly subverting his master by the skilled administration of bad advice. This is followed by Richard III, a "genius" villain of more genocidal ambitions, then Shylock from Merchant of Venice, as well as a couple of surprising nominations.

A pivotal discussion is devoted to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, whose villainous partnership ties in with Berkoff’s thesis on the way sex and violence are inextricably linked in Shakespeare’s canon.

The show was devised in the mid-’90s, which explains why our host makes passing reference to the impeachment of Bill Clinton during his discussion of Coriolanus, even as a far more villainous — if not Shakespearean — president is being tried in the U.S. Senate in real time. Berkoff’s premise, that villains are raised without love and therefore lack compassion, certainly seems timely in that context.

If Reid’s grasp of the script feels tenuous, there can be no denying he summons great power in his performances of select scenes. One might be best advised to catch this show closer to the end of its run, when the bugs have been worked out and lines might be uttered in full, unprompted fury.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
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In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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