There should be something in Robin and Mark and Richard III for nearly every CanCon-loving Canadian; be it directors Martha Burns and Susan Coyne, Mark McKinney of Kids in the Hall fame, or the slew of Canadian theatre royalty – not even including the subject, theatre legend Robin Phillips.
The cameras run on veteran stage director Robin Phillips in his gorgeous Stratford home as he teaches the nuances of performing Shakespeare – in this case, the Duke of Gloucester himself, Richard in Richard III – to Mark McKinney. He’s pedantic and micromanaging on McKinney’s readings but, darn it, his methods produce results. Phillips dives into and dissects both the written and performed words of Shakespeare: why some accentuations are more effective, where the beauty is in the rhythm, and the contemporary cultural relevance of choice phrases. Between talking heads from Canadian theatre greats (and an honourary appearance from Dame Maggie Smith), McKinney goes from a guy saying the lines to becoming Richard himself. Later joined by actress Christine Horne, Phillips directs them both to not just interact with each other as their characters, but to react to each other as their characters.
Pacing and narrative aren’t an issue – its subject matter is nuanced enough that you’re either going to be intensely engaged or absolutely uninterested. It’s an extremely well crafted documentary, but certainly not for everyone.
The film has turned into an unintended eulogy for Phillips – he passed in 2015. It’s a suiting goodbye from the community, as it shows him at his best, but doesn’t hold back the truths of what he was like to work with professionally – notoriously difficult yet still always right. Robin and Mark and Richard III is charming and fascinating, and watching McKinney’s progress is every bit as trying and satisfying as it must have been for both him and Phillips.
Do you like theatre? Do you like Shakespeare? Why haven’t you bought a ticket already?
Robin and Mark and Richard III opens at Toronto’s Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Friday, April 15. A Q&A with the documentarians will follow after all screenings with special guests including: Rod Deogrades (April 15), Christine Horne (April 15 and 16), Nancy Palk (April 17), Joe Ziegler (April 17), and Mark McKinney (April 15, 6:30pm showtime)
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Trevor Jeffery: @TrevorSJeffery