Richard II

Royal Shakespeare Company (Wednesday 22 January, 7.15pm, Barbican)

From the Announcement in the Autumn 2013 Newsletter :

“Richard II  :  Shakespeare’s first play about the House of Lancaster

David Tennant takes on the title role in this new production by the Royal Shakespeare Company of Shakespeare’s first play about the House of Lancaster. Richard is King, a monarch ordained by God to lead his people, but also a man of very human weakness, a man whose vanity threatens to divide the great houses of England and drag his people into a dynastic civil war that will last 100 years.

RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran directs. Joining Tennant is Oliver Ford Davies as the Duke of York – both actors appeared in the RSC’s acclaimed Hamlet (2008) – with Nigel Lindsay as Henry Bolingbroke and Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt.

This production opens in Stratford at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on 10  October and transfers to the Barbican on 9 December, so at the time of writing neither reviews nor photos are available, but that both venues are already sold out must be a hint.”

From the Report, by Ann McMellan, in the Spring 2014 Newsletter :

“The performance of ‘Richard II’ at the Barbican lived up to the high expectations generated in ANS by universal critical acclaim. Sacred music sung by sopranos wearing robes resembling those worn by the angels in the Wilton Diptych and the soaring pillars of a technologically manufactured interior (Windsor Castle according to Shakespeare) established a solemn and impressive note as the audience entered the theatre.

The pageantry of Richard’s throne descending from the heavens and the king’s sumptuous gown proclaimed the marked contrast between the verbalising monarch and the brawling Dukes of Hereford and Norfolk as they challenged one another to mortal combat. The casting aside of his elegant garb brought Richard visually down to the level of sycophantic sidekicks. Bushy, Bagot and Greene proved as eagerly rapacious as the king in seizing the Duke of Lancaster’s “plate, coin, revenues and movables” and so giving Bolingbroke a pretext for returning from exile and supplanting Richard.

David Tennant credibly communicated his character’s consciousness of the monarch’s special status and his callous self-indulgence but the audience was  made aware that Richard was willing to acquiesce in the transfer of anointed authority to his cousin even before Bolingbroke asked for the crown. Though Richard fought for life at Pontefract, he had earlier  succumbed to despair and resigned himself to becoming “nothing”.

Whilst Tennant’s mesmerising acting and fluid delivery provided the highlight of the evening, there were also memorable performances from the rest of the cast. These ranged from Sean Chapman’s power-hungry Earl of Northumberland to the dying prophecy of Michael Pennington’s John of Gaunt that his nephew Richard is inflicting grievous damage on “this scept’red isle”. Special mention must be made too of Jane Lapotaire as the newly widowed Duchess of Gloucester and of Oliver Ford Davies as the Duke of York. The latter’s well sustained role throughout the play conveyed sympathetically his conflicting concerns for the descendants of King Edward III. When the Duchess of Gloucester finally rose from cradling the coffin of her murdered husband, she movingly voiced the pain of her loss, the “world of grief” to which Richard would eventually consign himself.

Careful editing ensured a smooth transition between scenes and the omission of Sir Pierce of Exton produced a surprising twist when the murderers invade Richard’s prison in Pontefract Castle. From act one scene one to act five scene six, the Royal Shakespeare Company presented a wonderfully intelligent and coherent interpretation of ‘The Tragedy of King Richard the Second’ which members of the ANS would willingly watch again. ”